Land of hope chapter summaries

Land of hope chapter summaries DEFAULT

Land of Hope and Glory - Chapter 2


“John stares blankly at the detonator in his hand. He knows he will never live to be eleven or twelve or thirteen. He deserves to die, but the man standing next to him doesn’t Sherlock doesn’t deserve this.”

Summary AU – The British Empire spans the globe: her greatest threat is not foreign enemies but domestic terrorists, killing in the name of freedom and independence. Mycroft Holmes leads the grim war on terror and Sherlock is his best secret agent: cold, calculating and obsessive, who is hell-bent on destroying the militant rebels until one explosive day when he meets a child soldier named John

Rating PG-13

Genre Adventure/Action, Kidfic, Espionage, Romance, Dark,

Characters Sherlock/Irene, Sherlock&John, Mycroft/Anthea, Lestrade, Sally Donovan, Anderson, Moriarty

Length 40,000+ 16 Chapters


“Mr Sherlock,” said Angelo with more enthusiasm than was strictly necessary, “come in, come in!”

“Just spaghetti, and make it quick,” said Sherlock, not bothering with any niceties: his long-term friend and food provider was used to this brusque manner.

Angelo rushed into the kitchen to give his staff the order, then hurried back with a candle for Sherlock’s table.

The small Italian restaurant felt warm and homely at this time of night. Couples and families occupied most of the seats, chatting and laughing. Bunches of dried herbs and vegetables hung around the walls as decorations, giving the establishment a rustic ambience that Sherlock enjoyed.

“It’s my vain hope that you’ll bring your date back,” explained Angelo as he placed the candle in the centre of Sherlock’s usual table by the window.

“She wasn’t just my date, she was also my colleague,” snapped Sherlock, but Angelo merely answered him with a superior smile.

The spaghetti appeared with lashings of Bolognese – which Sherlock hadn’t ordered – but Angelo refused to leave him alone until he had eaten the entire plate.

“You need to build your strength up. I have this feeling I’m not going to see you again for a while,”

“You’re right,” replied Sherlock curtly as he reached for his wallet, which was, as usual, fervently rejected.

“You don’t pay here, Mr Sherlock. You need to eat well or you’ll fade away.”

Sherlock suppressed a smile at that phrase: his life as a spy had always been lived in the shadows. The ability to fade into the background or fade into another persona was second nature to Sherlock. Over the years, as he became more consumed by his hunt for Moriarty, Sherlock had begun to wonder whether the lines between their personalities were already blurring and fading.

“Good seeing you again, Angelo,” said Sherlock quietly.

“You are always welcome,” the Italian replied with gusto.

Sherlock stepped out into the cool summer night and braced himself against the lashing wind that felt like it still contained icicles from Siberia. This British summer was proving to be as temperamental as the last, with days of scorching sunshine followed by squalling gales and torrential rain. Tonight, the biting wind made walking unpleasant even with a long winter coat and scarf. Sherlock plunged his hands deep into his pockets and hurried home as fast as possible.

By the time he turned the corner onto Baker Street, he already knew he was being followed. A dark shape flitted at the edge of his vision, sometimes disappearing for long moments in a vain attempt to convince him that it was just his imagination, or paranoia. The sparse, dim glow of the street lamps illuminated very little of the dark street, and between the patches of light, sinister shadows shifted and weaved as Sherlock hurried along.

When he finally reached 221B, he fitted his key into the front door and pretended to fiddle with the lock. It was an old trick he still used occasionally to fool would-be assassins into thinking that he was in a vulnerable state.

The attack came from the right as he knew it would, a wickedly sharp blade slashing at his carotid artery. It missed by a wide margin but was instantly followed by a roundhouse kick to his thigh. He blocked the assault with his right hand, jabbing the keys into his opponent’s calf muscles. A hand gripped his hair painfully, pulling him backward onto the pavement and leaving the front door of 221B gaping half open.

Sherlock twisted gracefully, using his feet to pivot and pull his centre of gravity downward to regain his balance. They were almost facing each other when a well-polished red stiletto heel came flying at his groin. Mindful of his duty to continue the Holmes family line, he kicked out at the attacker’s other leg, which for a split second was supporting all her weight. She lost her balance – but instead of tumbling backwards onto the street, she threw herself forward, knocking both of them into the hallway of 221B with a resounding thud.

Mrs Hudson, Sherlock’s ever-present and ever-fussing landlady, ran out from her flat in a state of panic – which soon subsided when she saw just who was lying on top of him. “Can you please do this somewhere else?” she asked, though her exasperated tone showed she had already given up hope either of them was ever going to listen.

“I’m sorry, Mrs Hudson,” said Irene smugly, “I just can’t keep my hands off him.”

Half an hour later, the kettle had boiled and Irene was curled up in one of his armchairs, wearing his dressing gown. Her luxurious, thick brown hair was drying in the heat from the fire, and Sherlock relished for a moment the remembered sensation of running his hands through those smooth, silky locks.  Even a decade after their first meeting, he still thought of Irene as the woman: the only woman who had ever enraptured his mind and captured his heart.

She held out her hand for a cup of Earl Grey, and Sherlock passed it to her in silence.

“How was Beirut?” she asked with a knowing smile. “I heard you caused quite a commotion.”

“The Egyptian Prime Minister refused to listen to me and consequently lost his life. The human gene pool is much better off now. When did you get back from the Congo?”

“This evening. Thought I’d drop by and see if you’ve replaced me, seeing as I’ve been gone for so long,” Irene said, leaning forward in her chair with a wicked glint in her eyes that did terrible things to Sherlock’s cognitive function.

“Why would I replace something I don’t want?”

“…Because you’re a sexually frustrated bachelor in his thirties who makes up for his interpersonal anxieties by behaving like a petulant toddler at all times? Oh, and shall I mention your brother? But then we could be here all night….”

“I haven’t replaced you,” growled Sherlock, and sipped his piping-hot tea. The warm, heady aroma of his favourite blend provided a comforting anchor against the storm that was brewing outside.

“This is not just a social visit,” admitted Irene in a low voice, interrupting Sherlock’s thoughts.

“I know.”

“You’ve been tasked with infiltrating the LRA.”

Sherlock didn’t bother asking how she’d obtained that piece of information. Irene Adler had become one of the most renowned agents in MI5 since her defection from Moriarty almost a decade ago.  Sherlock had been the one to recruit her, not just because she was as close to the criminal mastermind as any human could get, but because she fascinated him. They were so alike, yet so different. Even after ten years of deadly missions, secret escapades and stolen moments together, she still remained the most remarkable mystery he had ever encountered.

“You’re right,” he replied flatly, and continued to drink his tea.

“I’m going to be helping you out.”

Thankfully, that remark caught Sherlock in between sips; otherwise, Irene would have been treated to an amusing display of the man choking on his own beverage. “This is not an MI5 operation!” hissed Sherlock venomously. “I don’t work for those fools anymore.”

“Lestrade and Gregson have agreed with Mycroft to run this operation jointly. Having me working on this as a liaison was the best compromise we could come up with.”

“And I suppose they ordered you here to break the news to me?” snarled Sherlock, feeling inexplicably hurt at the idea.

“You really are a toddler,” replied Irene with equal measures of amusement and exasperation “They were going to tell you at the briefing tomorrow, but I thought you deserved to know tonight. …Well, I thought it would be a good excuse to visit you tonight.”

“You don’t need an excuse to visit.” Irene had a habit of treating his apartment as her own and had recently developed an annoying tendency to redecorate his personal space as she saw fit. The new coffee table and union jack cushion were entirely her doing.

“Mmm, but I do need a reason to stay all night.”

Sherlock had never been a paragon of British self-control, but the speed at which he crossed the room to envelop her was indecent even by his standards.

John awoke to the sound of water dripping through the cracks in the ceiling. He didn’t mind the noise, and it guaranteed them a steady water supply throughout the night – a luxury other platoons didn’t have.

The bucket was almost full, and John clambered out of his sleeping sack into the bitter cold air to drink some of the precious liquid. It always tasted slightly metallic, as the water corroded the iron rods inside the concrete. He imagined that the water on the surface world must taste very bland, since it came straight from a “reservoir”. John had once watched a TV programme about the water cycle, and he was fascinated by the way in which water was recycled: from the river to the trees to the air. It was a pity that the TV set had been moved to Company B. Now John had only a tattered pile of books, which he knew off by heart, to amuse him.

Murray was stirring in the space next to his, but Zero and Slightly remained unmoving, misshapen lumps under their blankets.

“Sarge,” muttered Murray as John slurped down the ice-cold water in the tin bucket, “are you really going to do this?”


“That dirty bomb.”

“Yes,” stated John, as though it were a universal truth.

“I don’t like it.”

Murray had a habit of thinking too much. Zero called it paranoia – probably because that was the only impressive-sounding word he knew – but John liked the way Murray thought twice about everything.


“Remember that drone we found near King’s Cross?”

“What about it?”

“Remember how the red light didn’t come on when it got within jamming range?”

“Just a problem with the drone, not our jammers.”

“I think it transmitted your picture before we fried its circuits.”

Now Murray really was being paranoid. The LRA had long since developed jamming equipment to prevent the drones from uploading anything more than images of empty tunnels when soldiers were around. This particular mission was the first time John had ever been specifically ordered to destroy a drone. Mostly the unmanned aircraft were left to their own devices to wander the tunnels. Five years of constant drone patrols had never once caused the Government forces to raid the Underground. Although it was a strange order, John knew better than to ask questions. Surveillance drones occasionally did get destroyed by cave-ins or old booby traps left over from the Second World War; losing one drone out of several thousand was hardly going to make the government suspicious.

“You’re worrying too much,” whispered John as he crawled back under his blankets. Some people might think his bedding smelt atrocious, but John enjoyed the strong, musty odour that he associated with sleep and comfort.

“But what if?”

“Then we would all be dead by now,” replied John calmly, “and we’re not, so obviously there’s nothing to worry about.”

“They’re biding their time up there,” muttered Murray, more to himself than to John, “they know we’re down here trapped like rats and they’re going to smoke us out.”

John didn’t bother to listen to the rest of Murray’s thoughts. His mission started tomorrow: a mission that would end the British Empire forever and bring freedom to the world.

Production Notes: Irene’s Backstory:

The basic premise is that ten years ago Moriarty first showed up on MI5’s radar as an up and coming terrorist leader. Sherlock, who had been seconded to MI5 by Mycroft after spending years wandering the continent on a massive drug binge, was sent to infiltrate Moriarty’s organisation. While there, he met Irene, who was working for Moriarty at the time.

They found each other’s minds mutually fascinating, and it was the start of a tempestuous relationship spanning nearly a decade. Their physical relationship started when she was still working for Moriarty, and Sherlock was posing as a new member of his organisation. Now they’ve mellowed out – sort of like an old married couple, but obviously much less confined by social norms. She stops by at his apartment between missions and helps to sort out his life.

Chapter 1 - Chapter 3 Part 1 - Chapter 3 Part 2 - Chapter 4

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Land of Hope: A Persuasive and Inspiring History of America

Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story, by Wilfred M. McClay (Encounter Books, 504 pp., $34.99)

Professors and teachers across America should cancel their fall book orders and replace their current textbooks with Wilfred McClay’s Land of Hope. McClay, the G. T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty at the University of Oklahoma, satisfies the promise made in the title of his latest work. In it, he invites everyone to learn how ideals drove America’s creation and success. 

In 24 short chapters, McClay draws readers into the story of America while doing something refreshing and democratic: Rather than condescend to his readers, he assumes that Americans who can read plain English can also understand …

This article appears as “To Inspire and Instruct” in the August 26, 2019, print edition of National Review.

Politics & Policy

The Rush to Restrict Gun Rights

By Charles C. W. Cooke

Proponents of doing so disregard both the Constitution and the available evidence.


An Independent Woman

By Jay Nordlinger

Get to know Afghanistan’s ‘mother of a thousand children.’


Mow Your Own Lawn, Man

By Graham Hillard

Notes on a chore that should not be outsourced.


Robert Menasse’s Messy EU Novel

By Andrew Stuttaford

A review of The Capital: A Novel, by Robert Menasse.


Land of Hope: A Persuasive and Inspiring History of America

By Stephen Tootle

A review of Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story, by Wilfred M. McClay.


Rudyard Kipling’s American Years

By Christopher Sandford

A review of If: The Untold Story of Kipling’s American Years, by Christopher Benfey.


How Theodor Geisel Became Dr. Seuss

By Peter Tonguette

A review of Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodor Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination, by Brian Jay Jones.


Walt Whitman Isn’t America’s Greatest Poet

By Sarah Ruden

Why Walt Whitman was more the father of empty celebrity than of the Democratic spirit.



By NR Editors

Charles C. W. Cooke responds to a letter in our last issue.

The Week

The Week

By NR Editors

Bill de Blasio has spent so much time in Iowa that when he gets back home, he’ll complain about the prices.


London Letter

By James Lileks

London is my favorite European city, and not just because I can read the menus.


On the Water

By James Matthew Wilson

The heron rises overhead, as we push off the reeded shore…

Happy Warrior

The College-Parent Panic

By David Harsanyi

Of all traditional responsibilities of parenthood, sending your children away has to be the most emotionally jarring.


The Virginia Tech Super-Spreader That Wasn’t

The Virginia Tech Super-Spreader That Wasn’t

Despite the COVID hysterics who warned you otherwise, a college-football game did not lead to a spike in positive cases.

Dominic Pino

Americans Really Don't Like This President

Americans Really Don't Like This President

If Americans in 2021 are 'united' around anything, it's that they disfavor Joe Biden.

Charles C. W. Cooke

Democrats Belatedly Realize Joe Biden Is a Lousy LeaderBorder Patrol Outraged by Biden's Scapegoating: 'He Just Started a War'

Border Patrol Outraged by Biden's Scapegoating: 'He Just Started a War'

'I see the administration wants to fry our agents, he just started a war with Border Patrol,' said one agent.

Caroline Downey

The U.S. Supply Chain Makes No Sense

The U.S. Supply Chain Makes No Sense

This crisis should prompt a rethinking of the needless inefficiencies we foist on ourselves.

Rich Lowry

Say, Where <em>Is</em> That Biden Regulation on Vaccine Mandates?

Say, Where Is That Biden Regulation on Vaccine Mandates?

It's been three weeks since Biden's vaccine-mandate announcement, and businesses still don't have a concrete picture for how this will roll out.

Jim Geraghty

The Latest

The Wuhan Lab Cover-Up

The Wuhan Lab Cover-Up

It's now certain that the U.S. government misled the public about the kind of research that the U.S. taxpayers were indirectly funding in China.

The Editors

CDC Director: 'We May Need to Update our Definition of Fully Vaccinated' as Booster Eligibility Increases

CDC Director: 'We May Need to Update our Definition of Fully Vaccinated' as Booster Eligibility Increases

'We will continue to look at this. We may need to update our definition of fully vaccinated in the future,' Walensky said.

Brittany Bernstein

State Department in Contact With More Than 350 Americans in Afghanistan, Far Exceeding Administration's Earlier EstimatesVirginia Polls Should Alarm Democrats

Virginia Polls Should Alarm Democrats

If the results on Virginia’s Election Day 2021 look anything like the current polls, the prognosis for Democrats a year down the road will be grim.

Dan McLaughlin

  1. Irmo dump hours
  2. Posca markers set
  3. Forced microchip implants
  4. Sheer track curtains

Colin Campbell Cooper, Hudson River Waterfront, N.Y.C

By Wilfred M. McClay


JMC faculty partner and board member Wilfred McClay has published a new American history textbook that provides an alternative to the standard AP-level texts. In McClay’s words:

Land of HopeWe have a glut of text and trade books on American history. But what we don’t have is a compact, inexpensive, authoritative, and compulsively readable book that will offer to intelligent young Americans a coherent, persuasive, and inspiring narrative of their own country. Such an account will shape and deepen their sense of the land they inhabit, and by making them understand that land’s roots, will equip them for the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship in American society, and provide them with a vivid and enduring sense of membership in one of the greatest enterprises in human history: the exciting, perilous, and immensely consequential story of their own country.

The existing texts simply fail to tell that story with energy and conviction. They are more likely to reflect the skeptical outlook of specialized professional academic historians, an outlook that supports a fragmented and fractured view of modern American society, and that fails to convey to young people the greater arc of that history. Or they reflect the outlook of radical critics of American society, who seek to debunk the standard American narrative, and has had an enormous, and largely negative, upon the teaching of American history in American high schools and colleges.

This state of affairs cannot continue for long without producing serious consequences. A great nation needs and deserves a great and coherent narrative, as an expression of its own self-understanding; and it needs to convey that narrative to its young effectively. It perhaps goes without saying that such a narrative cannot be a fairy tale or a whitewash of the past; it will not be convincing if it is not truthful. But there is no necessary contradiction between an honest account and an inspiring one. This account seeks to provide both.

Purchase the book at Encounter Books or Amazon >>




“…Professional American historiography has made steady advances in the breadth and sophistication with which it approaches certain aspects of the past, but those advances have come at the expense of public knowledge and shared historical consciousness. The story of America has been fractured into a thousand pieces and burdened with so much ideological baggage that studying history actually alienates young Americans from the possibility of properly appreciating their past…

Land of Hope… goes against the current by not dumbing down the reading level. It is written with an underlying conviction that we should never sell short the capacity of young Americans to read challenging books if they are interesting and well-wrought. Such books are far more likely to stoke the fire of their imaginations and convey to them the complexity and excitement of history—history not as an inert recitation of facts, but as a reflective task that takes us to the depths of what it means to be human…”

Read McClay’s entire piece for Imprimis >>




“…Don’t ask [Wilfred McClay] who’s on the right or wrong side of history. He thinks those concepts are bunk. ‘History is only very rarely the story of inevitabilities,’ he says, ‘and it almost never appears in that form to its participants.’

Thus in the new book he observes that it’s ‘hard to read about’ early-19th-century America ‘without thinking of the series of events culminating in the coming of the Civil War as if they were predictable stages in a preordained outcome. Like the audience for a Greek tragedy, we come to this great American drama already knowing the general plot,’ and susceptible to the illusion that it was written in advance. He urges readers to resist ‘that habit of mind’ and remember that people at the time had no foresight to match our hindsight.

What gets him most riled up is what he sees as an abdication. ‘When you teach an introductory course in American history,’ he says, ‘you really have a responsibility . . . to reflect in some way the national story, in a way that is conducive to the development of the outlook and skills of a citizen—of an engaged, patriotic, serious citizen.’ Most professional historians don’t ‘take that mandate very seriously at all,’ and instead provide ‘a basically negative understanding of American history…’”

Read the full interview from the Wall Street Journal >>



Wilfred McClayWilfred M. McClay is the G.T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty at the University of Oklahoma. His research interests focus on the intellectual and cultural history of the United States, with particular attention to the social and political thought of the 19th and 20th centuries, the history of American religious thought and institutions, and the theory and practice of biographical writing. A recipient of many teaching awards and honors, he has been the recipient of fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Academy of Education. Professor McClay previously served on the National Council on the Humanities, the advisory board for the National Endowment for the Humanities. His book, The Masterless: Self and Society in Modern America, won the 1995 Merle Curti Award of the Organization of American Historians for the best book in American intellectual history. Besides Land of Hope, he is the author of  The Student’s Guide to U.S. History, Religion Returns to the Public Square: Faith and Policy in America, Figures in the Carpet: Finding the Human Person in the American Past and Why Place Matters: Geography, Identity, and Public Life in Modern America.

Professor McClay is a JMC board member.

Learn more about Wilfred M. McClay >>



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Wilfred McClay A Land of Hope Discussion

“Historical consciousness is to civilized society what memory is to individual identity. Without memory, and without the stories by which our memories are carried forward, we cannot say who, or what, we are. Without them, our life and thought dissolve into a meaningless, unrelated rush of events. Without them, we cannot ... dwell harmoniously in society” (p. xii). To help us to dwell harmoniously and to reflect our history accurately, Wilfred McClay argues that we should recognize that America has always been a land of hope. He aims in Land of Hope to inspire readers—both young and old—rather than dispirit them. Implicitly, his book aims to paint a portrait that is unmarred by the distortions of the field’s best seller, Howard Zinn’s A People's History of the United States. (Earlier this year, I reviewed Mary Garbar’s Debunking Howard Zinn for The Independent Review.)

McClay’s history is largely a political history, with less attention to cultural and economic issues. Accordingly, “since we must begin in the middle of things,” McClay begins his history of America in the middle of Europe’s history, with English laws and customs (p. 7). In examining the encounter between Europeans and American Indians, he emphasizes the central role of disease: “It is crucial to keep in mind ... that the single most important factor leading to the extinction or dramatic reduction of various indigenous peoples after contact with the Spanish was not the cruelty of Spanish rule, but the epidemic spread of Old World diseases such as smallpox, measles, and malaria, to which the people of the Americas ... had no natural immunity” (p. 21). He ties the relative success of English colonization—“a haphazard collection of uncoordinated private undertakings”—to the English political system’s checks and balances, the common law, and a penchant for enterprise and commerce (p. 23). As Englishmen became Americans, they exhibited an “openness to experiment [and a] can-do optimism ... taking a fresh look at things, starting from no authority but reason” (p. 39).

In assessing key political controversies from colonial times to the present, McClay is careful to see the best arguments of all sides. The debate about the Declaratory Act (1766), in which the English Parliament asserted that its power over the colonies hinged on “sharply divergent ideas: about the proper place of America in the emerging imperial system, about the meaning of words like self-rule, representation, constitution, and sovereignty.It was a genuine debate, in which both sides had legitimate arguments” (p. 45, emphasis in the original). Later, he judges the disputes between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, as members of the first cabinet, regarding the legitimate functions of the federal government with an awareness that “as in many of the most bitter struggles, there was something to be said for, and against, both positions” (p. 82).

McClay’s analysis can be pithy and deeply insightful. After outlining the British strengths in the Revolutionary War, he explains that “the Americans enjoyed certain very real advantages. ... First, there was the fact that they were playing defense. ... The Americans also had a second advantage. They were blessed with an exceptional leader in the person of George Washington” (p. 53). His is not the tainted George Washington of modern retellings, but the Washington as people knew and respected him at the time. But he also recognizes that Washington was a slave owner (as were thirty of the fifty-five framers of the Constitution), who embodied the era’s “conflicted conscience” about slavery, and who manumitted his own slaves (p. 73). McClay reminds the reader that “the conditions of life in the United States would prove highly favorable to the steady natural increase in the slave population. ... In fact, slaves in the antebellum South would have the highest rate of natural increase of any slave society in history” (p. 73). He judges that “it would be profoundly wrong to contend, as some do, that the United States was ‘founded on’ slavery. No,” he continues almost poetically, “it was founded on other principles entirely, on principles of liberty and self-rule that had been discovered and defined and refined and enshrined through the tempering effects of several turbulent centuries of European and British and American history” (p. 73, emphasis in the original).

McClay captures the essence of the antebellum worldview by explaining that the Compromise of 1850, which attempted to defuse sectional rivalries, “would allow the country to turn its attention back to its real business, the taming and settling of a giant continent” (p. 159) and noting that, to Americans, the discovery of gold in California right after the Mexican War “seemed to be the crowning expression of divine favor. ... It was almost as if God had kept the gold hidden until the land came into the possession of the American republic” (p. 156). And, he cautions, “history is only very rarely the story of inevitabilities,” even in analyzing the march toward civil war.

Perhaps his most astute observations regard the nature of the Progressive movement: “Progressivism was a middle-class movement, reflecting the legacy of Protestant moral and ethical teaching—although conspicuously lacking in the hard-edged doctrine of original sin. That was a key omission. The Progressive view of human nature saw humans as fundamentally good, and evil as a function of bad social systems and corrupted institutions, not something irremediably wrong or sinful deep in the souls of individuals persons. There was no inherent limit to the improvability of the world. No problem was beyond solution” (p. 247). Hence, Progressives set out to fix everything. It was an “outlook that cared deeply about the common people and knew, far better than they did, what was best for them” (p. 248). He adds, “Thus there was always in Progressivism a certain implicit paternalism, a condescension that was all the more unattractive for being unacknowledged” (p. 248). This manifested itself in the early twentieth century in causes like outlawing child labor, protecting women in the industrial workforce, natural-resource conservation, railroad regulation, prohibition, racial segregation, and “scientific” eugenics. “In the end,” he writes, “the scientific roots of Progressivism were likely to be incompatible with its religious ones. ... It was Progressivism’s fate to try to hold on to both sets of values at the same time—an impossible task” (pp. 248–49).

If there’s an important weakness in Land of Hope, it is a bit of an allergy to numbers and failure to incorporate the findings of economic historians. For example, he suggests that debt peonage was common among former slaves, who had “no way to escape from the web of obligations, no way to accumulate capital and work toward independence” (p. 200). Works like Price Fishback’s “Debt Peonage in Postbellum Georgia” (Explorations in Economic History 26, no. 2 [April 1989]:219–36) debunk the idea that debt peonage was pervasive in the postbellum South. When I surveyed economists who were members of the Economic History Association (“Where Is There Consensus among American Economic Historians? The Results of a Survey on Forty Propositions,” Journal of Economic History 55, no. 1 [March 1995]: 139–54), 73 percent of them agreed with the proposition that “American blacks achieved substantial economic gains during the half-century after 1865.” When asked whether “in the postbellum South economic competition among whites played an important part in protecting blacks from racial coercion,” 66 percent agreed. McClay’s take on economic conditions among industrial workers and farmers in the late 1800s is also wide of the mark. He presents farmers “struggling with bankers, railroads, grain-elevator operators, and a crowd of other middlemen and creditors, just to be able to get their livelihood,” failing to note the immense gains from voluntary trade between farmers and all of these supporting groups (p. 241, emphasis added). He misses the vast improvements in standards of living brought by market competition in suggesting that workers’ “best weapon” to resist bad working conditions “was the formation of unions” (p. 215). In the aforementioned survey of economists, 82 percent agreed that “the reduction of the length of the workweek in American manufacturing before the Great Depression was primarily due to economic growth and the increased wages that it brought,” while 71 percent disagreed with the statement that “the reduction in the length of the workweek in American manufacturing before the Great Depression was primarily due to the efforts of labor unions.” Competition among employers was the worker’s friend and workers exercised the ability to “vote with their feet” to move to better economic conditions. In the late 1800s in many manufacturing industries, unmarried men actually earned more than married men (holding everything else constant), an indication that ease of movement among jobs led workers to receive better offers. Finally, McClay states that “there are basically two schools of thoughts about the causes of the Great Depression. There are those who place the principal blame on underconsumption, which means that there was a loss of broadly distributed purchasing power in the economy ... leaving the great mass of potential consumers unable to buy the goods that the ever more productive American economy was churning out. ... Others blame bad government policy for turning an ordinary recession into a full-blown and persistent depression” (p. 295). Despite McClay’s assertion, very few economists today credit “underconsumption” and economic inequality as a cause of the Great Depression, although contemporaries did.

McClay duly credits Franklin Roosevelt with lifting the nation’s spirits, “convincing Americans that their government cared about them and was determined to address the plight of its more vulnerable citizens. This was no small thing. The art of governing well is not only a matter of satisfying material needs but also one of supplying hope. The New Deal had done that” (p. 310). On the other hand, he dismantles the National Recovery Administration, a cornerstone of Franklin Roosevelt’s first New Deal: “The NRA enjoyed a few limited successes, but the agency very rapidly became completely unmanageable. ... Imagine taking the burden of evaluating every price, every wage, every transaction, every rule of competition, every production quota, in a sprawling and ever-changing national economy. The job would be overwhelming. Every single decision made would have to take into account dozens of unforeseen and unforeseeable effects, because every economic decision has consequences ramifying out from it in dozens of directions” (pp. 308–9). His coverage of the New Deal also includes the playful lyrics to the Mills Brothers song “The WPA”: “Sleep while you work, while you rest, while you play; Lean on your shovel to pass time away; T’aint what you do; you can die for your pay: The WPA” (p. 307).

His coverage of more recent history continues the theme of hope. Ronald Reagan, McClay writes, “had been a liberal Democrat himself in his younger days, and even when he had come to reject many of the policies of the New Deal and Great Society, he never rejected the example of Franklin Roosevelt or neglected the great lesson of Roosevelt’s presidency: a democratic leader’s essential role, above all else, is to be a purveyor of hope and a prophet of possibility” (p. 401). And, he adds, “ideas never translate automatically into politics; they have to be embodied in people”, as they were in both Roosevelt and Reagan, and later in Barack Obama (“Hope and Change”) and Donald Trump (“Make America Great Again”) (p. 401).

Throughout Land of Hope, McClay masterfully includes quotes from historical actors, great and small, that embody hopes and fears. Jonathan Winthrop’s 1630 exhortation that “we must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together ... as members of the same body” is followed by wisdom from people like John Quincy Adams, Calvin Coolidge, and Martin Luther King Jr. (p. 27). An especially apt inclusion is from Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address, which advised us to “avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also for their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow” (p. 366). These inclusions and an almost unending stream of telling examples and trenchant observations show both his depth of knowledge and mastery of historical narrative.

Unlike many other histories, McClay’s book “never loses sight of what there is to celebrate and cherish in the American achievement. That doesn’t mean it is an uncritical celebration. The two things, celebration and criticism, are not necessarily enemies. Love is the foundation of the wisest criticism, and criticism is the essential partner of an honest and enduring love” (p. 423). His book is “offered as a contribution to the making of American citizens. As such, it is a patriotic endeavor as well as a scholarly one” (p. 423). As Joseph Conrad explained (“Prince Roman,” in Tales of Hearsay [New York: Doubleday, Page, and Company, 1925], 29–30), “It requires a certain greatness of soul to interpret patriotism worthily.” Land of Hope does so.

Robert M. Whaples

Wake Forest University

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Of summaries land hope chapter

Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story 2018045970, 2018046473, 9781594039386, 9781594039379

Table of contents :
Title Page
Introduction: One Long Story
Chapter 1: Beginnings: Settlement and Unsettlement
Chapter 2: The Shaping of British North America
Chapter 3: The Revolution of Self-Rule
Chapter 4: A War, a Nation, and a Wound
Chapter 5: The Experiment Begins
Chapter 6: From Jefferson to Jackson: The Rise of the Common Man
Chapter 7: The Culture of Democracy
Chapter 8: The Old South and Slavery
Chapter 9: The Gathering Storm
Chapter 10: The House Divides
Chapter 11: The Ordeal of Reconstruction
Chapter 12: A Nation Transformed
Chapter 13: Becoming a World Power
Chapter 14: The Progressive Era
Chapter 15: Woodrow Wilson and the Great War
Chapter 16: From Boom to Bust
Chapter 17: The New Deal
Chapter 18: The Finest Hour: World War II
Chapter 19: All Thoughts and Things Were Split: The Cold War
Chapter 20: Out of Balance: The Turbulent Sixties
Chapter 21: Fall and Restoration: From Nixon to Reagan
Chapter 22: The World since the Cold War
Epilogue: The Shape of American Patriotism
For Additional Reading

Citation preview

Land of Hope

Copyright ©2019 by Wilfred M. McClay All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of Encounter Books, 900 Broadway, Suite 601, New York, New York 10003. First American edition published in 2019 by Encounter Books, an activity of Encounter for Culture and Education, Inc., a nonprofit, tax-exempt corporation. Encounter Books website address: Manufactured in the United States and printed on acid-free paper. The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of ANSI/NISO Z39.48–1992 (R 1997) (Permanence of Paper). FIRST AMERICAN EDITION LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA

Names: McClay, Wilfred M., author. Title: Land of hope : an invitation to the great American story / by Wilfred M. McClay. Other titles: Invitation to the great American story Description: New York : Encounter Books, [2019] | Includes bibliographical references and index. | Audience: Grades 9-12. Identifiers: LCCN 2018045970 (print) | LCCN 2018046473 (ebook) | ISBN 9781594039386 (ebook) | ISBN 9781594039379 (hardcover : alk. paper) Subjects: LCSH: United States—History—Juvenile literature. Classification: LCC E178.3 (ebook) | LCC E178.3 .M143 2019 (print) | DDC 973– dc23 LC record available at

For Bruce Cole Indispensable man, irreplaceable friend

Every generation rewrites the past. In easy times history is more or less of an ornamental art, but in times of danger we are driven to the written record by a pressing need to find answers to the riddles of today. We need to know what kind of firm ground other men, belonging to generations before us, have found to stand on. In spite of changing conditions of life they were not very different from ourselves, their thoughts were the grandfathers of our thoughts, they managed to meet situations as difficult as those we have to face, to meet them sometimes lightheartedly, and in some measure to make their hopes prevail. We need to know how they did it. In times of change and danger when there is a quicksand of fear under men’s reasoning, a sense of continuity with generations gone before can stretch like a lifeline across the scary present and get us past that idiot delusion of the exceptional Now that blocks good thinking. That is why, in times like ours, when old institutions are caving in and being replaced by new institutions not necessarily in accord with most men’s preconceived hopes, political thought has to look backwards as well as forwards. JOHN DOS PASSOS “The Use of the Past,” from The Ground We Stand On: Some Examples from the History of a Political Creed (1941)


One Long Story CHAPTER 1

Beginnings: Settlement and Unsettlement CHAPTER 2

The Shaping of British North America CHAPTER 3

The Revolution of Self-Rule CHAPTER 4

A War, a Nation, and a Wound CHAPTER 5

The Experiment Begins CHAPTER 6

From Jefferson to Jackson: The Rise of the Common Man CHAPTER 7

The Culture of Democracy CHAPTER 8

The Old South and Slavery CHAPTER 9

The Gathering Storm CHAPTER 10

The House Divides CHAPTER 11

The Ordeal of Reconstruction CHAPTER 12

A Nation Transformed


Becoming a World Power CHAPTER 14

The Progressive Era CHAPTER 15

Woodrow Wilson and the Great War CHAPTER 16

From Boom to Bust CHAPTER 17

The New Deal CHAPTER 18

The Finest Hour: World War II CHAPTER 19

All Thoughts and Things Were Split: The Cold War CHAPTER 20

Out of Balance: The Turbulent Sixties CHAPTER 21

Fall and Restoration: From Nixon to Reagan CHAPTER 22

The World since the Cold War EPILOGUE



New England theologian and preacher Jonathan Edwards (1703–58). Edwards was the first American thinker to earn a worldwide reputation for the power and originality of his writing. A Calvinist possessing a razor-sharp and far-reaching theological mind, Edwards also insisted upon the importance of the imagination and the affections in the religious life. His sermon “A Divine and Supernatural Light” (1734) expressed that importance in these mystical words: “This light, and this only, has its fruit in a universal holiness of life. No merely notional or speculative understanding of the doctrines of religion will ever bring to this. But this light, as it reaches the bottom

of the heart, and changes the nature, so it will effectually dispose to a universal obedience.”


Benjamin Franklin (1705–90), painted by the French artist Joseph Duplessis during Franklin’s diplomatic service in France. The

embodiment of the American Enlightenment and a senior figure in the American Founding, Franklin came into the world without pedigree or advantages, but rose steadily in the world through his resourcefulness and ambition.


A political cartoon attributed to Franklin, Join, or Die, was the first widely popular image of British American colonial unification. First created in 1754 to support the French and Indian War, and later to encourage consideration of the Albany Plan, it was later deployed to promote colonial unity in the Revolutionary era.


Although not an accurate depiction of the Boston Massacre, this Paul Revere engraving called The Bloody Massacre in King-Street became a powerful tool of anti-British propaganda.


General George Washington (1732–99) at Trenton on January 2, 1777, on the eve of the Battle of Princeton, as depicted in a 1792 John Trumbull painting. Even in an age chronically suspicious of heroes, it is hard not to be awed by Washington’s many virtues. Intrepid, courageous, charismatic, wise, tireless, and always learning, he commanded the instinctive respect of nearly all who knew him. He was known to be a man of exceptionally fine character who selfconsciously modeled himself on the classical republican ideals of the unselfish, virtuous, and public-spirited leader who disdained material

rewards and consistently sought the public good over his own private interest.


Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) in the triumphant year of 1800, by Rembrandt Peale. Jefferson was a complicated man, with many paradoxes hiding behind his confident and direct gaze in this painting. An Enlightened intellectual of cosmopolitan sympathies who felt thoroughly at home in the salons of Paris, he nevertheless favored the rural agrarian way of life and held up the ideal of the yeoman

farmer as a model of classical virtue. A man of lofty ideals, he also was a fierce and effective party leader who managed in his presidency to put the Federalist Party on a path to extinction. An eloquent proponent of liberty whose resonant words in the Declaration of Independence have influenced America and all the world in the years since 1776, Jefferson was at the same time deeply ambivalent about the institution of slavery, fully recognizing its evils and its incompatibility with the ideals of liberty, but unable, or unwilling, to free himself from involvement in it. By the time of the Missouri Compromise, though, he had begun to fear for the nation’s future, as the conflict over slavery seemed beyond resolution.


Pamphleteer extraordinaire Thomas Paine (1737–1809).


James Madison (1751–1836), principal architect of the Constitution, by Gilbert Stuart. Though tiny in stature, Madison casts a large shadow over subsequent American history as a rare political man who was equal parts theorist and practitioner.


Alexander Hamilton (1755?–1804), the economic wizard of the nation’s early history, by John Trumbull. Few stories of upward mobility in the nation’s early history are more impressive than that of Hamilton. Born out of wedlock in the Caribbean island of Nevis, he was orphaned to a wealthy merchant. The boy’s dazzling intellect and boundless energy became evident to all early on in life and would lead him, after being brought to America and educated at King’s College (later to become Columbia University), into an early and fervent embrace of the Revolutionary cause and service as George Washington’s personal aide. He went on to play a prominent role in the making of the new American nation, was instrumental in the creation and ratification of the Constitution, and was especially important in fleshing out its economic implications – though often in

fierce conflict with Jefferson, who did not share Hamilton’s vision of the nation’s future.


The brilliant, vain, honorable, quarrelsome, incorruptible, and ultimately lovable John Adams (1735–1826), in his official presidential portrait by John Trumbull.


Abigail Adams (1744–1818), John Adams’s wife, confidante, advisor, and frequent correspondent, the other half of one of the great marriages in American history.


The L’Enfant Plan for Washington, D.C. Although the temperamental L’Enfant did not stay to see his project completed, the essence of his vision survived and created the underlying structure of the nation’s capital city, which has since blossomed into one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Unlike the many American cities laid out as simple functional grids, L’Enfant’s Washington would superimpose a graceful latticework of wide diagonal avenues that interconnected through circles and squares, providing for an endless array of dramatic and unexpected vistas as well as numerous park sites for the erection of statuary and monuments to celebrate and memorialize the unfolding national story. Under L’Enfant’s plan, the area west of the Capitol was to be a garden-lined public promenade, a “grand avenue” open to all comers. Instead, it would become the National Mall, an expansive midcity park that is home to the Smithsonian Institution and numerous

museums and is a premier site for public events and a haven for walkers and joggers.


Andrew Jackson (1767–1845), by Thomas Sully. The contrast between Jefferson and Jackson could almost be deduced from their portraits alone. Where Jefferson is elegant and patrician, even aristocratic, in bearing, Jackson here looks like the man of action who has just stepped off the battlefield, with his tousled hair and his chiseled, war-hardened looks. Jackson’s great triumph in the Battle of New Orleans made him a national hero, at the very moment when an expanding American nation was looking for one. He became the nation’s first populist leader, an appeal confirmed by his being denied the presidency by the political establishment of his day in the election of 1824, in which he received the largest number of popular and Electoral votes but failed to gain a majority. When Henry Clay’s support tipped the result to John Quincy Adams, and Adams responded by making Clay his secretary of state, Jackson’s supporters cried “corrupt bargain!” With their support, Jackson came roaring back to victory in 1828, knocking the elites back on their heels and setting the stage for a two-term presidency that remains controversial to this day.


Abolitionist Frederick Douglass (1818–95). Author of a compelling narrative account of his own experience of slavery, and a spellbinding orator, Douglass was a living rebuke to the very idea of racial inequality.


Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–96), author of the epochal novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852).


Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–82), transcendentalist sage and prophet of a new American culture. Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., the father of the famous Supreme Court judge, referred to Emerson’s lecture “The American Scholar” as the nation’s “intellectual Declaration of Independence.”


Abraham Lincoln (1809–65) campaigning for the presidency in New York City, February 27, 1860, photographed by Mathew Brady. He was fifty-one years old at the time, but he appears younger in this photograph, having not yet acquired the beard that posterity associates with him. Although we find him formally dressed here, his rugged face and direct gaze are clear hints of his humble origins as a man of the prairie and frontier. As Lincoln said in announcing his candidacy for the Illinois General Assembly in 1832, he “was born, and [had] ever remained, in the most humble walks of life,” without “wealthy or popular relations or friends to recommend” him. But the fact that a man in his lowly condition could win public office and rise in the world was, for him, confirmation of the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, a document that Lincoln revered with a nearreligious awe.


A visibly war-weary President Lincoln on February 5, 1865, less than five years after the previous photograph. The war took an enormous toll on him. No one had anticipated the immensity of the conflict’s destructive effects. As the casualties mounted, Lincoln had become increasingly preoccupied with the problem of God’s providential will, of discerning how He had steered these events and to what end, and what it all meant. His Second Inaugural Address, delivered a month

later, on March 4, was the fruit of that search, showing an immersion in biblical language and concepts that one had not seen before in Lincoln’s oratory. Perhaps, he mused in that great speech, this war had come about because of the sins of the nation, and the need to atone for these sins. When Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth on April 14 – Good Friday in the Christian calendar, the day that Jesus was crucified – it seemed to many Americans an event of enormous portent – as if Lincoln had himself taken on those sins. He was no longer merely a besieged politician; he was now a national martyr.


Harriet Tubman (1822?–1913), abolitionist and legendary “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. The Railroad was an informal network of secret routes and safe houses sheltering and aiding escaped slaves fleeing to the North. As many as one hundred thousand escapes were made possible by the Railroad. Tubman’s abolitionist convictions were reinforced not only by her experience as an ex-slave but by her profound religious faith. Like so many African Americans in bondage, she saw their plight mirrored in the biblical story of the

Exodus. The slave states were Egypt, and the North, especially Canada, was the Promised Land. Her friends called her “Moses,” and she used the spiritual song “Go Down Moses” as a signal to warn fugitives to stay hidden. But when she led them across the border, she called out, “Glory to God in the highest. One more soul is safe!”


Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant (1822–85) at the battle of Cold Harbor, 1864. Rarely has an eminent general less looked the part than Grant did. As in this photograph, he generally had stubble on his face and a notably unmilitary bearing. Nor was there anything in his background that hinted at greatness. He finished in the lower half of his class at West Point, resigned from the army amid rumors of alcoholism, and went on to fail at everything he tried in civilian life, finally going to work for his father in Galena, Illinois. But when the war came, he sought recommissioning, and it soon became clear that he had found a powerful new focus for his life, as he rose to become Lincoln’s favored general, the exponent of a brutally effective approach to fighting a war, one of the great generals of history.


The Grand Review of the Union Army, as depicted in Harper’s Weekly (1865). The participants in the review were the men of the Army of the Potomac, under General George Meade, and of the combined

western armies that had fought through Georgia and the Carolinas under General William Tecumseh Sherman. The resulting parade was an astounding spectacle: two hundred thousand men marching for two days through the streets of Washington, D.C., in a line stretching as far back as twenty-five miles.


The First Vote, drawn for Harper’s Weekly, November 16, 1867, by A.R. Waud. In 1867, 105, 832 freedmen registered to vote in Virginia, and 93, 145 voted in the election that began on October 22, 1867. Twenty-four African Americans won election to the 1867–68 Virginia Constitutional Convention, which created the Underwood Constitution (named for John C. Underwood, the federal judge who was president of the convention) that granted the vote to African American men.


These tenements lining Mulberry Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan typified the lively yet densely settled and often unhealthy immigrant neighborhoods in New York and other major cities at the turn of the century.


A fearless workman nonchalantly bolts beams during the construction of the Empire State Building in a photograph by Lewis Hine, 1930. The Empire State was something of a miracle, being built in a mere 410 days at the depths of the Depression. It immediately became the most iconic image of the New York City skyline, the tallest building in the world and a symbol of American resilience.


Immigrants being served a free meal at Ellis Island, America’s first federal immigration station, which opened in January 1892. Immigration officials reviewed approximately five thousand immigrants per day during peak times at Ellis Island, and the majority of those individuals came from eastern, southern, or central Europe. The peak year for immigration at Ellis Island was 1907, with 1,004,756 individuals processed. After the Immigration Act of 1924 was passed, only exceptional cases and refugees passed through the station, and it would eventually close in 1954 – only to reopen as a museum operated by the National Park Service. Small wonder that it would become a tourist attraction. Today, more than one hundred million Americans – about one-third of the population of the United States – can trace their ancestry back to Ellis Island.


Chief Joseph (1840–1904) of the Nez Perce tribe, who was compelled to surrender a way of life after leading his tribe in resisting forcible removal by the U.S. government from their ancestral lands in the Wallowa Valley of northeastern Oregon.


Emigrants Crossing the Plains by German-born painter Albert Bierstadt, 1869.


Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) as president, circa 1904, in a rare moment of inactivity. At the time he assumed the office of president, TR had already packed several lifetimes into a mere forty-two years on the planet. Born in New York City to a wealthy patrician family of Dutch extraction, and schooled at Harvard and Columbia universities, he developed a taste for adventure and challenge, a propensity that had been forged in his childhood experience of a successful struggle

to overcome poor health. When he entered the arena of politics, he left his mark wherever he went as an intense, vigorous, idealistic, and reform-oriented activist – a quintessential Progressive.


William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925) in 1902. A silver-tongued orator with a radical populist agenda and a heart for the poor and disfranchised, Bryan was probably the most unabashedly religious major political candidate in American history.


Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924). Although a relatively unknown former professor of political science and president of Princeton University, the sum total of whose political experience was two years served as governor of New Jersey, Wilson became the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party in 1912. Thanks to the division among the Republicans, he was swept into office. Wilson too was a Progressive who had written extensively about American government and had been an important figure in the field of public administration, which dealt with the aspects of governance that were deemed to lie outside

the realm of politics. Wilson sought to expand that realm and consign as much decision-making as possible to the authority of experts. He was an extraordinarily successful president on the domestic side, rapidly gaining most of his domestic agenda. Yet he often did so at the expense of the structure of governance that the Constitution had established, which he openly sought to reform, even overturn. He was notoriously stubborn and convinced of his own rectitude, traits that led to his disastrous mishandling of the controversy over American ratification of the Treaty of Versailles.


Calvin Coolidge (1872–1933) while governor of Massachusetts, 1919. Later, when he was Warren Harding’s vice president, Coolidge received by messenger the news about Harding’s death while staying in his childhood home of Plymouth Notch, Vermont. There, in that simple house, his father, who was a justice of the peace, administered the oath of office in the family parlor at 2:47 A.M. by the light of a kerosene lamp. It was a glimpse of an older and more rooted America, something Americans desperately needed after the turmoil of the Wilson and Harding years. Coolidge may be our most underestimated president. He managed to restore confidence in the office of the presidency and easily won election in his own right in 1924, setting the stage for an economic boom that lasted through his presidency. He also gave a profound speech on the 150th anniversary of the American Revolution, cogently articulating the enduring value of the Revolution’s ideals.


Herbert Hoover (1874–1964). Few men as worthy and talented as Hoover have suffered so bitter a fate. He was a good man; a highly intelligent, competent, and accomplished public official; and a distinguished humanitarian with a cosmopolitan sensibility and an incomparable record of service to the nation and the world. In fact, it is hard to imagine any American of his day who had a more ideal résumé for service as president of the United States. He was a problem solver par excellence who combined an engineer’s scientific insight with a social worker’s benevolent intentions, and he had successfully tackled enormous tasks – relief efforts in war-torn Belgium, Russia, and Ukraine; the Mississippi Valley floods of 1927 – with skill and dedication. But the Great Depression defeated him completely and, in the process, caused him to present an image to the world of coldness and indifference toward his suffering fellow

Americans. He would live for another three decades and do many more good things in public service. But he could never shake that image of ineptitude and sourness that history has affixed to him.


President Franklin D. Roosevelt, with British prime minister Winston Churchill. The picture speaks volumes about the two men. If Churchill looks cautious and reserved, Franklin Roosevelt seems full of geniality, goodwill, optimism, and openness to the future – the very image of the “first-class temperament” that Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes attributed to him, and even more, an image of the virtues that we think of as characteristically American. Yet the more suspicious temperament of Churchill meant that he took the measure of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin far more accurately than Roosevelt did.


Troops aboard an LCVP landing craft approach Omaha Beach on DDay, the invasion of Normandy, June 6, 1944. D-Day remains the largest seaborne invasion in human history. These men knew that they would soon face heavy fire from gun emplacements overlooking the beaches and a shore littered with mines and covered with obstacles such as wooden stakes, metal tripods, and barbed wire. Casualties were heaviest at Omaha, because of its high cliffs.


This photograph of landing ships putting cargo ashore on Omaha Beach, at low tide during the first days of the D-Day operation, can only begin to convey a sense of the massive scope of the operation. Note the barrage balloons overhead and the Army “halftrack” convoy forming up on the beach.


President Ronald Reagan (1911–2004) speaks to the veterans of Point du Hoc on the fortieth anniversary of their D-Day landing, June 6, 1984. Here is how he began his remarks: “We’re here to mark that day in history when the Allied armies joined in battle to reclaim this continent to liberty. For four long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow. Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation. Europe was enslaved, and the world prayed for its rescue. Here in Normandy the rescue began. Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.”


President Harry S. Truman (1884–1972), in a photograph taken in June 1945, just a few weeks after his ascent to the presidency in the wake of FDR’s death. Harry Truman could not have offered a more striking contrast to his urbane, well-born, and Harvard-educated predecessor. A simple, unpretentious midwestern man with only a high school education, blunt and down to earth, he was not a smooth operator but a feisty defender of the interests of the common people and the little guy. In addition, Truman was a decisive man who did not agonize over his choices. Just as he quickly resolved that it would be imperative to use the atomic bomb against Japan because its use would save countless lives, so he quickly moved to extend American

support for the imperiled nations of postwar Europe, while doing all he could to prevent yet another ghastly and wasting world war.


President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969) in a photograph taken in 1954. A career army man who had, like Truman, come from out of

the American heartland, Ike had been supreme Allied commander and the hero of D-Day in the Second World War. He brought to the political arena an aura of moderation and nonideological executive competence, qualities that spoke winningly to the country’s postwar needs. Balance would be the watchword of his administration. While he favored a fiscally conservative approach to government spending, he did not challenge the essential architecture of the New Deal, either by contracting it or by expanding it. Although Ike was not known for his oratory, his Farewell Address has become one of the most important speeches of postwar American history, with its sage warnings about the damaging effects upon American democracy of a large military–industrial complex conjoined to governance by technocratic elites.


Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–68) at the March on Washington, August 28, 1963. It is fitting that King, a Baptist minister who became the

greatest of a remarkable generation of African American civil rights leaders, should here be seen on the National Mall, the space that Pierre L’Enfant had intended for a democratic “grand avenue,” with the Washington Monument in the background. King himself called it a “hallowed spot,” and his greatest speeches, such as the one he delivered on this day in 1963, in support of the civil rights legislation then pending before Congress, his “I Have a Dream” speech, appealed for social change on the basis of the nation’s foundational ideals, not in opposition to them.


The Apollo 11 moon landing, July 20, 1969, with astronaut Buzz Aldrin saluting the U.S. flag on the lunar surface. It is almost impossible for us in our technologically jaded era to comprehend the level of risk that the brave Apollo 11 astronauts faced. They had to entrust their lives to the perfect functioning of thousands of essential systems that were completely beyond their control. They also had to travel 250,000 miles through the vast emptiness of space, facing the genuine danger that they might miss the moon altogether and find themselves carried out into the void, far beyond any conceivable possibility of rescue. The risk level was so high that President Richard Nixon had a speech prepared in case they did not return.


President Richard Nixon (1913–94) meets with China’s Communist Party leader, Mao Zedong, February 29, 1972. Nixon is probably the twentieth-century American president about whom historical opinion is most unsettled. Nixon himself predicted that it would take at least fifty years before his presidency could be properly assessed, and his prediction has, if anything, underestimated the problem. Like Truman, he was controversial and reviled by many in his time and left office under a cloud, with rock-bottom approval ratings, hated by his opponents. Like Johnson, he had none of the charm or charisma of a John F. Kennedy, and he suffered for it, an unloved leader who almost seemed uncomfortable in his own skin and who was openly mocked in the media for his chronic awkwardness and strange, lurching gestures. But the passage of time and the lessening of passions have led to significant reappraisals of Nixon’s career, and there will likely be more in the years to come. In many respects, he was a talented and highly intelligent man who was consumed by the circumstances of the time: by the intractable war in Vietnam, by the terrible social divisions of the country, and by the outsized demands upon the presidential office. Yet this photograph reminds us of one of his greatest achievements in the realm of diplomacy, the “opening to China” that helped defuse many potential sources of conflict and advance American interests in the nation’s relations with the Soviet Union. There was far more to Richard Nixon than Watergate.


The Italian tall ship Amerigo Vespucci, named after the explorer and cartographer whose first name came to be used to name the New World, one of the tall ships from all over the world participating in the celebration of the nation’s bicentennial year of 1976. In New York on July 4, an especially stately procession of tall ships from all over the world made its way from Staten Island, past Brooklyn and Governor’s Island, past the Statue of Liberty, past the canyons of Wall Street, and up the Hudson to the northern tip of Manhattan, accompanied, as in this picture, by a flotilla of pleasure boats. It is estimated that five million people lined the shore to watch the event live that day, and many millions more watched on television.


Official portrait of President Reagan and Vice President George H. W. Bush (1924–2018), 1981. Although they had been keen rivals for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination, and continued to have philosophical differences, Reagan and Bush made a strong and harmonious team as president and vice president, and the momentum of their partnership carried Bush to election as president in 1988. The two could point to a record of very significant achievement in restoring the strength of the nation’s economy and its foreign policy. By the end of Bush’s term of office, the Cold War was over, the Soviet Union had ceased to exist, and the power and dignity of the presidential office had been restored.


Urban search-and-rescue teams work to clear rubble and search for survivors at the World Trade Center, September 15, 2001. This attack of September 11, 2001, was the single deadliest such attack in American history. It was carried out by radical Muslim terrorists associated with the organization al-Qaeda, who flew two hijacked commercial airliners into the 110-story Twin Towers as part of a larger plan that included attacks on the Pentagon and other Washington government buildings, including possibly the White House or Capitol. Had they been fully successful, the concerted attacks could have paralyzed the U. S. government. As it was, they killed three thousand people, injured countless others, and did almost unimaginable damage to property in lower Manhattan, including the complete disintegration of the city’s two tallest structures, while causing more than a hundred deaths, many injuries, and significant damage at the Pentagon. This picture represents a tiny portion of that swath of destruction. The attack itself was a wake-up call to a country that had largely ignored or downplayed the terror threat during the 1990s. But more

than that, it was a sign that the nation had entered a new era, one in which the protocols of the Cold War were a thing of the past and entirely new issues beckoned, requiring a reconsideration of America’s place in the world.




ARE ALREADY DOZENS OF HIGHLY COMPETENT, lavishly illustrated, and meticulously detailed accounts of the history of the United States in circulation. Why the need for this book, then? That is a very good question. The short answer is that this book seeks to accomplish something different from the others. You the reader will have to be the ultimate judge of whether it has been successful. But let me first take a few words to describe some of its guiding intentions. Its principal objective is very simple. It means to offer to American readers, young and old alike, an accurate, responsible, coherent, persuasive, and inspiring narrative account of their own country – an account that will inform and deepen their sense of the land they inhabit and equip them for the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship. “Citizenship” here encompasses something larger than the civics-class meaning. It means a vivid and enduring sense of one’s full membership in one of the greatest enterprises in human history: the astonishing, perilous, and immensely consequential story of one’s own country. Let me emphasize the term story. Professional historical writing has, for a great many years now, been resistant to the idea of history as narrative. Some historians have even hoped that history could be made into a science. But this approach seems unlikely ever to succeed, if for no other reason than that it fails to take into account the ways we need stories to speak to the fullness of our humanity and help us orient ourselves in the world. The impulse to write history and organize our world around stories is intrinsic to us as human beings. We are, at our core, remembering and story-making creatures, and stories are one of the chief ways we find meaning in the flow of

events. What we call “history” and “literature” are merely the refinement and intensification of that basic human impulse, that need. The word need is not an exaggeration. For the human animal, meaning is not a luxury; it is a necessity. Without it, we perish. Historical consciousness is to civilized society what memory is to individual identity. Without memory, and without the stories by which our memories are carried forward, we cannot say who, or what, we are. Without them, our life and thought dissolve into a meaningless, unrelated rush of events. Without them, we cannot do the most human of things: we cannot learn, use language, pass on knowledge, raise children, establish rules of conduct, engage in science, or dwell harmoniously in society. Without them, we cannot govern ourselves. Nor can we have a sense of the future as a time we know will come, because we remember that other tomorrows also have come and gone. A culture without memory will necessarily be barbarous and easily tyrannized, even if it is technologically advanced. The incessant waves of daily events will occupy all our attention and defeat all our efforts to connect past, present, and future, thereby diverting us from an understanding of the human things that unfold in time, including the paths of our own lives. The stakes were beautifully expressed in the words of the great Jewish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer: “When a day passes it is no longer there. What remains of it? Nothing more than a story. If stories weren’t told or books weren’t written, man would live like the beasts, only for the day. The whole world, all human life, is one long story.” Singer was right. As individuals, as communities, as countries: we are nothing more than flotsam and jetsam without the stories in which we find our lives’ meaning. These are stories of which we are already a part, whether we know it or not. They are the basis of our common life, the webs of meaning in which our shared identities are suspended. This book is an invitation to become acquainted with one of those webs of meaning: the American story. It does not pretend to be a complete and definitive telling of that story. Such an undertaking would be impossible in any event, because the story is ongoing and far from being concluded. But it is also the case that this book has striven to be as compact as possible. As any author will tell you, the

most painful task in writing a book of this kind is deciding what to leave out. It is always very easy to add things but very difficult to take them out, because every detail seems important. One is constantly committing cruel acts of triage, large and small, throwing details out of the lifeboat to keep the vessel from sinking – a harsh but necessary act, if what remains is to take on the shape of a story rather than a mere accumulation of facts. As will be clear, I have chosen to emphasize the political history of the United States at every turn, treating it as the skeleton of the story, its indispensable underlying structure. This emphasis is particularly appropriate for the education of American citizens living under a republican form of government. There are other ways of telling the story, and my own choice of emphasis should not be taken to imply that the other aspects of our history are not worth studying. On the contrary, they contain immense riches that historians have only begun to explore. But one cannot do everything all at once. One must begin at the beginning, with the most fundamental structures, before one can proceed to other topics. The skeleton is not the whole of the body – but there cannot be a functional body without it. History is the study of change through time, and theoretically, it could be about almost anything that happens. But it must be selective if it is to be intelligible. Indeed, in practice, what we call “history” leaves out many of the most important aspects of life. It generally does not deal with the vast stretches of time during which life goes on normally, during which people fall in love, have families, raise their children, bury their dead, and carry on with the small acts of heroism, sacrifice, and devotion that mark so much of everyday life – the “unhistoric acts,” as George Eliot wrote in the closing words of Middlemarch, of those “who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” There are a few moments, like the American holiday of Thanksgiving, or great public commemorations, at which the low murmur of those ordinary things becomes audible and finds a measure of public acknowledgment. But by and large, “history” is interested in the eruptions of the extraordinary into the flow of the regular. It must leave out so very much. This book extends a come-as-you-are invitation, and as such, it attempts to be a friendly point of entry for all sorts of readers and

students of history, whatever their background. As the best stories show us, simplicity and complexity are not mutually exclusive. Hence this book strives to be, as the ancient sage put it, a river shallow enough for the lamb to go wading but deep enough for the elephant to swim. I hope all those who are new to the subject will be so intrigued that they will want to venture into deeper waters and, eventually, turn to the many outstanding books and authors that can take them much, much further, and deeper, than this book possibly can. But I hope that I have also done some justice to the deeper waters, without sacrificing the book’s accessibility. For both sorts of readers, I try to keep before us the recognition that history is not just an inert account of indisputable and selfexplanatory details. It is a reflective task that calls to the depths of our humanity. It means asking questions, and asking them again and again, and asking fresh questions as the experience of life causes fresh questions to arise. The past does not speak for itself, and it cannot speak to us directly. We must first ask. It may have things to tell us that we have not yet thought to ask about. But it can be induced to address some of our questions, if we learn to ask them rightly. That is one of the many subtle glories of the study of history. Finally, I’d like to offer a word about the book’s title, which forms one of the guiding and recurrent themes of the book. As the book argues from the very outset, the western hemisphere was inhabited by people who had come from elsewhere, unwilling to settle for the conditions into which they were born and drawn by the prospect of a new beginning, the lure of freedom, and the space to pursue their ambitions in ways their respective Old Worlds did not permit. Hope has both theological and secular meanings, spiritual ones as well as material ones. Both these sets of meanings exist in abundance in America. In fact, nothing about America better defines its distinctive character than the ubiquity of hope, a sense that the way things are initially given to us cannot be the final word about them, that we can never settle for that. Even those who are bitterly critical of America, and find its hopes to be delusions, cannot deny the enduring energy of those hopes and are not immune to their pull. Of course, hope and opportunity are not synonymous with success. Being a land of hope will also sometimes mean being a land

of dashed hopes, of disappointment. That is unavoidable. A nation that professes high ideals makes itself vulnerable to searing criticism when it falls short of them – sometimes far short indeed, as America often has. We should not be surprised by that, however; nor should we be surprised to discover that many of our heroes turn out to be deeply flawed human beings. All human beings are flawed, as are all human enterprises. To believe otherwise is to be naive, and much of what passes for cynicism in our time is little more than naïveté in deep disguise. What we should remember, though, is that the history of the United States, and of the West more generally, includes the activity of searching self-criticism as part of its foundational makeup. There is immense hope implicit in that process, if we go about it in the right way. That means approaching the work of criticism with constructive intentions and a certain generosity that flows from the mature awareness that none of us is perfect and that we should therefore judge others as we would ourselves wish to be judged, blending justice and mercy. One of the worst sins of the present – not just ours but any present – is its tendency to condescend toward the past, which is much easier to do when one doesn’t trouble to know the full context of that past or try to grasp the nature of its challenges as they presented themselves at the time. This small book is an effort to counteract that condescension and remind us of how remarkable were the achievements of those who came before us, how much we are indebted to them.

Land of Hope


Henricus Martellus, Insularium Illustratum, c. 1489. It is believed that Christopher Columbus studied this map as he prepared for his first voyage in 1492.*

* For an interesting history of this map, see


BEGINNINGS Settlement and Unsettlement

HISTORY ALWAYS BEGINS IN THE MIDDLE OF THINGS. It doesn’t matter where you choose to start the story; there is always something essential that came before, some prior context that is assumed. This is why the past can’t be divided up into convenient self-contained units, with clear and distinct beginnings and endings, much as we might wish it were otherwise. Instead, the spectacle that lies before us when we gaze backward is more like a sprawling, limitless river with countless mingling branches and tributaries, stretching back to the horizon. Like a river, time’s restless force pushes ever forward, but its beginnings lie far back, extending far beyond what we can see, fading into the mists of time at the edges of lands beyond our knowing. Consider the story of your own life. The story didn’t begin with you. You didn’t call yourself into existence out of the void. You didn’t invent the language you speak, or the foods you eat, or the songs you sing. You didn’t build the home you grew up in, or pave the streets you walked, or devise the subjects you learned in school. Others were responsible for these things. Others, especially your parents, taught you to walk, to talk, to read, to dress, to behave properly, and everything else that goes with everyday life in a civilized society, things that you mainly take for granted. But it’s important to remember that those others didn’t come into the world knowing these things either. Your parents didn’t invent

themselves any more than you did. And the people who taught them were just the same in that regard, taught by people before them, who were taught by people before them, and so on, in an everlengthening chain of human transmission that soon carries us back into the misty unknown. We carry the past forward into the present much more than we realize, and it forms a large part of who we are. Even at the moment of birth, we already find ourselves in the middle of things. So how far back would you go in telling your own story? You could go back pretty far, if you wanted to. Many people are fascinated by tracing out their family histories, their genealogies. The details can be surprising and intriguing, and they may reveal unsuspected things about your ancestors. But too much of that will get in the way of relating the most important parts of the story and illuminating the pattern of your own life. Too much detail muddies the picture and defeats the ultimate purpose. What we call “history” is the same way. It is not the sum of the whole past. It doesn’t include everything, and it couldn’t. Instead, it is a selection out of that expansive river of the past, like a carefully cropped photograph, organized wisely and truthfully, which allows us to focus in with clarity on a particular story, with particular objectives in mind. The story that this book seeks to tell, the story of the United States, is exactly like this. It is not going to be the story of everything. It’s a story about who we are and about the stream of time we share; it is an attempt to give us a clearer understanding of the “middle of things” in which we already find ourselves. And it is crafted with a particular purpose in mind: to help us learn, above all else, the things we must know to become informed, self-aware, and dedicated citizens of the United States of America, capable of understanding and appreciating the nation in the midst of which we find ourselves, of carrying out our duties as citizens, including protecting and defending what is best in its institutions and ideals. The goal, in short, is to help us be full members of the society of which we are already a part.

So where to begin? After all, there is a long, complex, and fascinating prologue to this story. We could go back many thousands of years, to the very edges of the mist, and examine what we know, or think we know, about the ancient origins of this country. And as in a family genealogy, we would find some surprises. For one thing, it turns out that there are no peoples that could truly be called “native” to America, because all appear to have migrated there from other parts of the world. In other words, the entire western hemisphere, including both North and South America, was from the start populated by immigrants, by peoples who came there from someplace else, in search of something new and better. Our best guess at present is that the first human settlers came over into the western hemisphere twenty thousand to thirty thousand years ago from northeastern Asia, probably by crossing over an icy land bridge or by island hopping across what is now the Bering Strait, the frigid waters that separate Russia and Alaska. From there, we believe that these first immigrants to America gradually filtered outward and downward, thinly populating all of North and South America, from the frozen Yukon to the southernmost tip of Patagonia, and east to the Atlantic coast and the forests and rivers and swamps of the American Midwest and South. Some of those migrant peoples would long remain confined to the life of Stone Age nomads, for whom the elemental power of fire, along with crude implements made of stone or bone, were their chief shields against the pitiless ferocity of nature. Others, however, moved into more settled forms of habitation, adopting the practice of agriculture and, in some cases, eventually developing into highly advanced cultures. These cultures rose, flourished, and fell, blazing a trail across time but leaving behind for us little literature or history, only a few poignant material reminders of them. Most impressive of these to us today were the classic cultures of Middle and South America, the Mayas and Aztecs of Mexico and the Incas of Peru, which erected formidable civilizations featuring splendid cities filled with elaborate pyramids, temples, and courts, some of which survive to the present day. Far less grand but just as intriguing are the remains of the North American settlements, such as those of the Adena and Hopewell

cultures, that left large earthworks and burial mounds scattered across the landscape of the American East and Midwest, still readily visible today in ordinary places like Chillicothe, Ohio, or Romney, West Virginia. These, too, are eerily silent clues to a once-flourishing but now vanished way of life. Much the same can be said of the ancestral Pueblo peoples of the arid Four Corners region of the American Southwest, sometimes called by the Navajo name “Anasazi,” a peaceful and highly organized people who left behind their startlingly modern-looking multistory cliff dwellings tucked in beneath overhanging cliffs, structures whose remnants can still be seen today in places like Mesa Verde, Colorado, and the Chaco Canyon area of northwestern New Mexico. There is something haunting and melancholy about the remaining traces of these earliest civilizations. Hints of their once-grand presence still linger in the American landscape, like faded echoes of a distant drama. Their mysteries intrigue us. But they are in only the most remote sense a part of American history. They do not play an important role in this book, simply because they had no direct or significant role in the establishment of the settlements and institutions that would eventually make up the country we know as the United States. Neither did the later discovery and exploration in the early eleventh century of a New World by adventurous Norse seamen like Leif Eriksson of Iceland, an enterprising fellow who sought to plant a colony on what is now the large Canadian island of Newfoundland. He and other Norsemen tried their best to establish a settlement in this newfound land to the west, to which he gave the cheerful name of “Vinland,” but their efforts came to nothing and are generally counted as historical curiosities – interesting false starts on American history, perhaps, but no more than that. But not so fast. Maybe this statement needs to be modified. Maybe the lost civilizations of the first Americans and the episodic voyages of Eriksson and other Norsemen, taken together, do point powerfully, if indirectly, toward the recognizable beginnings of American history. For they point to the presence of America in the world’s imagination

as an idea, as a land of hope, of refuge and opportunity, of a second chance at life for those willing to take it. Perhaps that seems a fanciful statement. After all, we can never be sure exactly what forces and impulses led those earliest Asiatic peoples twenty thousand years ago to cross over into Alaska and make the dangerous and costly journey to populate a new continent. What was in their minds? Were they mainly pushed by dire necessity, such as war or scarcity? Were they hunters who were merely following their quarry? Or were they in part pulled into the new lands by a sense of promise or opportunity, or even adventure, that those lands offered? We don’t know. The answers to those questions will probably always remain beyond our reach. But we know that the Norsemen’s brave impulse of over a thousand years ago, which drove them to go forth in search of new lands, came out of something more than mere necessity. They were drawn to cross the icy and turbulent waters of the North Atlantic by the lure of available western lands and by a restless desire to explore and settle those lands. And they were influenced by sentiments that were already widespread in their time, a thousand years after Christ and five hundred years before Columbus. From the beginning, there was a mystique about the West. Leif’s explorer father, Erik the Red, played upon that very mystique when he gave the alluring name of “Greenland” to the largely frozen island mass we know by that name today. He was appealing to an idea already long embedded in literature, myth, and religion that there were new lands of plenty and wonder and mystery out there – perhaps even an earthly paradise – waiting to be found, lying somewhere in lands beyond the western horizon. This message was especially alluring at the dawn of the new millennium, at a time when post-Roman Europe was stagnating, disorganized, and underdeveloped, still struggling to get back on its feet. But the message itself was not new. The ancient Greeks had spoken this way a millennium and a half earlier. They sang of the Isles of the Blessed, where the heroes and gods of their mythology dwelled in a fertile land where there was no winter, and of the Elysian Fields, which the poet Homer located on the western edge of

the earth, beside the stream of the world’s seas. Centuries later, at the outset of a new age of exploration, Sir Thomas More’s book Utopia (1516) described an ideal society located on an island in the West, as did Francis Bacon’s The New Atlantis (1627), the very title of his book recalling one of the most enduring legends of the West – the strange story of the isle of Atlantis, a fully developed civilization with kings of great and mighty power that had been swallowed up by the seas and disappeared forever from view. So the West had long been thought of, in Europe, as a direction offering renewal and discovery, a place of wealth and plenty, a land of hope – a vivid anticipation of what a New World could be like. And as we shall soon see, the shape taken on by this expectation would owe more to the yearnings of the Old World than to the realities of the New. So, since we must begin in the middle of things, we will start our history of America in the middle of Europe’s history. In fact, the two histories cannot be understood apart from one another. America is best understood as an offshoot of Europe; even the name “America” comes from the first name of the Italian-born navigator and explorer Amerigo Vespucci, who was among the first to speculate that the lands Columbus discovered were not the easternmost parts of Asia but part of an entirely new landmass. But America would prove to be an unusual kind of offshoot. It was not like a new branch emerging out of the trunk of a great tree, duplicating the appearance and structure of the trunk and the tree’s other branches, nor was it a careful and deliberate transplant, a smaller spin-off of what had already been established in Europe. Instead, it would receive certain parts of Europe, certain fragments that had been broken off from the whole – particularly English laws and customs – and would give those fragments a new home, in a new land, where they could develop and flourish in ways that would never have been possible in their native habitat. But so much of it was unpredictable, unplanned, unanticipated. The writer Lewis Mumford expressed this surprising process in a single brilliant

sentence: “The settlement of America had its origins in the unsettlement of Europe.” What did Mumford mean by this? He meant that by the time of Christopher Columbus’s famous voyage in 1492, which was one of the signal events in the making of America, Europe was becoming a dramatically different place from what it had been for the three preceding centuries, during the relatively stable and orderly years we now call the High Middle Ages (1000–1300). By the Late Middle Ages (1300–1500), Europe was entering the modern age, in the process becoming a place of pervasive change and innovation of all kinds. A great upsurge in fresh energies and disruptions, converging from many different directions at once, was unsettling a great deal of what had become familiar in the older world. If any one of these innovations or disruptions had come along by itself, without the company of others – say, if the desire for an expansion of global commerce had not been accompanied by breakthrough inventions that provided the technological means to make such commerce possible – its effects would have been far less pronounced. But by coming together at once, these innovations gathered strength from one another, so that they contributed to a more general transforming fire, as when many small blazes fuel a greater conflagration. Such is the case with all great historical transformations; they arise not out of a single cause but out of the confluence of causes. This unsettling transformation of Europe that was already well under way in 1492 was throwing off flames that would land in other places and set off transformations there as well. The exploration and settlement of America would be one of the most consequential of these flames, the product of a host of great European disruptions: economic, social, religious, technological, and cultural. What makes the story even more surprising is the fact that the movement toward the West actually began with a movement toward the East. Some key changes for Europe were wrought unintentionally by the Crusades, which were a Church-sanctioned military effort in the eleventh to thirteenth centuries to free the Holy

Lands from their Muslim occupiers, who had in the four centuries since the death of Mohammed in 632 conquered two-thirds of the Christian world. Far from being intended as an early act in the unsettlement of medieval Europe, or as an act of unprovoked aggression, the Crusades were meant to be part of Europe’s ongoing work of self-restoration. They were in many ways a perfect expression of the high medieval spirit in Western Europe, a world that was dominated by the Roman Catholic Church as a spiritual, political, and military power. But we are more concerned here with one of the indirect effects of the Crusades, which was to bring Europeans into contact with the riches of the lands along the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, consequently opening up overland trade routes to Asia, from which many desirable goods, such as rugs, silks, gold brocade, perfumes, teas, precious stones, dye-woods, and unusual spices such as pepper, nutmeg, and cloves, could be imported. Small wonder that the East came to hold such a cultural fascination for many Europeans. A widely read memoir by the Venetian traveler Marco Polo, featuring spellbinding stories of his adventures along the Silk Road and in the lavish court of the Mongol emperor Kublai Khan, gave Europeans their first direct knowledge of the fabled wealth of China and Central Asia and sparked the restless imaginations of future explorers like Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan. The benefits of commerce with Asian cultures were obvious and enticing. There were many obstacles, however. Overland trade with the East along the legendary Silk Road was slow, costly, and dangerous, and became more so after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. It could take a year to go from Venice to Beijing by land, traversing mountains and deserts on narrow trails with cargo packed on the backs of horses and camels. Muslim Turks and other unfriendly groups controlled the land routes to the east, so that even if travelers were able to elude bandits, there would be levies to be paid to local potentates and middlemen along the way, making the goods very expensive by the time they finally arrived at markets in Europe. As consumer demand for these luxuries grew and interest in trade with the East swelled, it became more and more urgent to find

a better way of getting there, and back. The search was on to discover an all-water route to the East, which, if found, would go a long way toward solving these problems. This search helped more generally to boost the era’s attention to oceangoing exploration and stimulate a thoroughly modern passion for extending and mapping the contours of the known world. Fortunately, vital technological inventions and improvements in navigation and ship design became available that made such expansive voyages possible – advances in mapmaking and astronomical navigation, the dry magnetic compass, the astrolabe, the quadrant, the cross-staff, and other such instruments, as well as the development of new ships, such as the oceangoing Genoese carrack and the fast and maneuverable Portuguese caravel, whose ingenious combination of differently shaped sails enabled them to move easily against the wind. Innovation did not stop there, though. The rapid expansion of trade was remaking the social and political map of Europe, at the same time that explorers were redrawing the physical map. In earlier eras, wealth and power had rested in the hands of those who owned land, but that was about to change. The years of expanding seaborne travel saw the rising economic and political power of a merchant class made up of those traders who had become wealthy from the risks and rewards of expanding commerce. Those years also saw the steadily growing importance of bustling market towns and port cities where the merchants’ commercial activities would come to be concentrated and where a host of ancillary middle-class businesses and professions – bankers, lawyers, insurance providers, outfitters and suppliers of goods and services, teachers – would set up shop and thrive. These changes would have far-reaching effects, further unsettling the existing order. The spectacular rise of the new merchant elites in places like Lisbon, Seville, and Venice challenged the power of old local and regional aristocracies, whose power had been based on their possession of land in a relatively closed and stationary feudal economy. Such older elites either had to accommodate themselves to the newcomers or be swept aside. The older ways were no match

for the dynamic, wealth-generating, and disruptive new economics of trade. Such changes would give rise in turn to new and unprecedented political structures. In Italy, ambitious merchant-princes used their new wealth to create powerful city-states, such as Florence and Venice, which featured glamorous palaces, churches, and other architectural and artistic wonders echoing the glories of Greek and Roman antiquity. In other places, the changes would lead to the emergence of great national monarchies, unified and centralized kingdoms over which individual rulers would be able to govern with vast authority and power. Such monarchs managed to break the hold of the local nobles and regional aristocrats who had dominated the feudal system and to create larger and more cohesive nations featuring a new kind of national-scale order, with a uniform national currency, a removal of internal barriers to trade, a professional standing military that kept internal order and supported the nation’s interests abroad – all innovations that would further the interests of the merchant and middle classes, even as they helped to build the nation. By 1492, four such national states were emerging in Europe: France, England, Spain, and Portugal. All four had both the wealth and the motivation to support the further exploration that would be needed to find a water route to the East and to expand the reach of their commerce and their growing power. It was Portugal, though, that took the initiative in this Age of Discovery, early in the fifteenth century, under the guidance and patronage of Infante Henrique, later to be known as Prince Henry the Navigator (1394–1460). Portugal was a small country, but as the westernmost country of mainland Europe, with an extensive Atlantic coastline and the magnificent ports of Lisbon and Porto, it was perfectly situated to become an oceangoing power, and eventually the first global empire in the history of the world. Under Henry’s leadership, Portugal became a magnet for the most able and advanced navigators and seamen from all over Europe, who were drawn to take part in the expeditions he sponsored. Step by step,

skilled Portuguese crews charted the entire west coast of Africa, opening it up to commerce, and eventually, explorers like Bartolomeu Dias and Vasco da Gama would round the southern end of the African continent and, by 1498, establish the long-sought waterborne path to India. The example of such Portuguese exploits drew Christopher Columbus away from his native Italian city-state of Genoa to settle in Lisbon at the age of twenty-six. He was already a highly experienced and capable sailor who had been to ports in the Mediterranean and northern Europe and, in partnership with his brother, voyaged under the Portuguese flag as far north as the Arctic Ocean, south along the coasts of West Africa, and west to the Azore Islands. Like everyone else of the time, he was obsessed with the idea of discovering an allwater route to “the Indies,” as the Far East was called; but he had his own ideas about the best way of doing it. Everyone else was confident that going east and rounding Africa was the key; Bartolomeu Dias seemed to have confirmed that when he rounded Africa in 1488. But Columbus became convinced that going west would be both faster and more direct, and he formulated a plan for an expedition that would prove it. When he took the plan to the King of Portugal in search of financial support, however, he was turned down – twice. Then he appealed to leaders in Genoa and Venice, and in England, and then in Spain, and had no luck with any of them. All of them said the plan was impractical and grossly underestimated the distances involved. Finally, however, after determined negotiations, Columbus was able to persuade the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella to support him, and they signed an agreement called the Capitulations of Santa Fe. On August 3, 1492, he set sail from Palos de la Frontera in Spain aboard a large carrack called the Santa Maria, accompanied by two caravels and carrying a Latin passport and a sheath of letters of introduction, including a letter of introduction from Ferdinand and Isabella to the Emperor of China, just in case. He also brought along a Jewish scholar who was conversant in Arabic so that he would be able to communicate with any Muslims he encountered at his Oriental destinations. What may have been lacking in hard evidence for Columbus’s theories he more than made

up for by the fervency of his faith. He fully expected that he would end up in the Far East. Not only was Columbus fiercely determined but he was a superb and knowledgeable sailor, with all the latest navigational tools in his arsenal. But a spirit of almost unimaginable daring was required to face the perils of a transatlantic voyage in his time, since it meant placing oneself at the mercy of harsh elements that could crush and drown one’s fragile enterprise at any moment. Nor could Columbus really know exactly where he was going. Despite all his calculations, most of which were wildly inaccurate, his voyage would be a giant leap into the unknown. The shape of the larger world was still a murky mystery, as can be seen in the crude maps at Columbus’s disposal, such as the 1491 Henricus Martellus map that he very likely studied in advance of his voyage. After a month at sea without sight of land, his crew began to feel overwhelmed by the dread of a watery death, and they threatened to mutiny. Yet Columbus stood adamant, and his commanding determination prevailed over their worries. The three ships sailed on. On October 12, his party spotted land, one of the islands of the Bahamas, which Columbus named “San Salvador,” meaning “Holy Savior.” What they had found was in fact an outpost of a new and unexplored landmass. But Columbus refused to believe that these lands could be anything other than the “Indies” he had counted upon finding, and he accordingly called the gentle Taíno natives who greeted them by the name “Indians.” To be sure, he found none of the plentiful spices, jewels, gold, silver, and other precious goods that Marco Polo’s account had led him to expect. The Caribbean islands were beguilingly beautiful, but they were full of exotic plants and trees that did not correspond to anything he knew or had read about. He was able to admit that he did not recognize them. But he was not able to imagine that he was looking at an altogether New World. Between 1492 and 1503, Columbus commanded four round-trip voyages between Spain and the Americas, all of them under the sponsorship of the Spanish Crown. He was not the first European to reach the Americas, but he was the first to establish enduring contact between the Old World and the New. Hence his voyages are

of great significance in the history of Europe and mark a proper beginning for our story as the first elements of Europe’s unsettlement that would reach western shores and begin to give rise to the settlement of America. But Columbus was not able to see it that way. He insisted, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that the lands he visited during those voyages were part of Asia. He was possessed by an iron resoluteness that his initial theory had to be true. By his third voyage, which took him to present-day Venezuela, he came to believe that, while that land was not the Indies proper, it was merely a barrier between him and them and that all that remained was to find a strait or other passage through. His final voyage was an unsuccessful effort to find that strait, a journey that took him even to what would later be the site of the Panama Canal, just a few miles away from the immensity of a Pacific Ocean that he never knew was there. But he returned home in disgrace and was regarded as a failure. What a strange irony it is. He had made one of the most important discoveries in human history, and yet he didn’t quite realize it. He was never able to understand the meaning of what he had discovered. His preoccupation with finding a new way to reach the riches of the East was the force that had propelled him into a far more momentous discovery in the West, the mysterious land of mythic renewal. And yet he could not see what was before him with fresh and open eyes. He was blind to its possibilities. In 1951, almost five hundred years later, the American poet Robert Frost would capture this irony in a witty poem about Columbus called “And All We Call American”: Had but Columbus known enough He might have boldly made the bluff That better than Da Gama’s gold He had been given to behold The race’s future trial place, A fresh start for the human race. America is hard to see. Less partial witnesses than he

In book on book have testified They could not see it from outside – Or inside either for that matter. America is hard to see. Columbus had trouble seeing America for the new thing that it was, and could be, and eventually would become. He was not the first, and he would not be the last. It is part of the human condition, and a recurrent feature of human history, that what we find is not always what we were looking for, and what we accomplish is not always what we set out to do. Hence, too, the reality that Columbus’s journeys were also the beginning of a great collision of cultures, a process that nearly always entails tragic and bitter consequences. Hence the cruel irony, as we shall see, that the settlement of America by newcomers would also produce a profound unsettlement for those who were not newcomers. The fresh start for the world came at a heavy price for those who were already settled on the land, men and women for whom San Salvador was not a New World being discovered but an old and familiar world about to be transformed.



OF ALL THE UNSETTLEMENTS THAT EUROPE EXPERIENCED in the years leading up to the establishment of the North American colonies, the most consequential of them involved changes in religion. This is not surprising, because in most human societies for most of human history, religion has served as the shared touchstone of life’s meaning and the foundation of culture, the chief vessel bearing the common values and vision of a whole society. Whenever religions change, it means that a great many other things are changing too. The Western European civilization of the High Middle Ages, which reached its zenith around the year 1300, had been unified around religion, in the form of an almost universally shared Roman Catholic faith. There was only one Christian Church in the western lands in those years, and its power and authority permeated all aspects of life, both spiritual and worldly. Religion’s presence was everywhere. The obligations of lords and vassals alike under the feudal system were underwritten by religious oaths. Kings were crowned by churchmen, guilds chose patron saints to represent them, and every town sought to erect its own magnificent cathedral as testimony to its faithfulness. At the time they were built, the great medieval cathedrals that still dot Europe’s landscape served as the focal points of their towns, architectural expressions of the age’s confidence in its having found a harmonious union of the sacred and the secular. Like the newly empowered papacy itself, and like the impressively systematic scholastic philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, so too the great

cathedrals of Europe expressed the powerful and unified structure of order and authority at which western Europe had arrived. They were an expression of the high tide of Christendom. That high tide, though, like all such tides, was not destined to last. It would all be undermined and banished by a series of rude disruptions, including massively death-dealing plagues, fierce intrachurch quarrels, and growing secular and national sentiments, conditions culminating in the great upheaval of the Protestant Reformation, which shattered the religious unity of Europe forever. To understand these revolutionary unsettlements fully, of course, one has to take into account a great many other factors besides religion itself. Religion always exists in the larger context of its times, and it cannot help but be responsive to the political, economic, and social conditions in which it finds itself. Moreover, great historical changes are never attributable to any one single cause alone. There were many reasons why the impressive unity of the High Middle Ages became so deeply unsettled and unable to sustain itself. Religious conflict was often mixed in with other forms of conflict and protest that had little or nothing to do with questions of theology or belief. But the emergence of bitter religious differences would nevertheless serve as a powerful catalyst for conflict and discontent from other sources. A common theme was a simmering anger and resentment at the worldly grandeur, wealth, and power of the Roman Catholic Church. Peasants and poor laborers felt aggrieved by the Church’s unabashed displays of opulence, which seemed to them to be deeply contrary to the humble teachings of their faith’s Founder. Middle-class businessmen in the urban areas had other motives: they wanted to be free of the Church’s interference in economic life, free to run their own churches and congregations, rather than others governing them from afar. Monarchs and princes, secular leaders who were steadily gaining in power and wealth, also wanted to become more fully masters of their own territories rather than battling with the Church about matters of taxes, property, and legal jurisdiction. And a growing number of religious reformers were increasingly convinced that the Church was guilty not merely of

correctable abuses but of terrible doctrinal errors. The stage was set for an eruption. The first and perhaps most famous of all the catalysts for reform was the German monk Martin Luther, a pious and passionate man who, in 1517, took offense at the Church’s practice of selling indulgences, grants of remission understood to ease the path through the afterlife for one’s deceased relatives. Luther was especially offended by the sale of indulgences as a way of financing the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica, the grand home church of the Pope in Rome. Not only did this practice strike him as unseemly but he found in it the seeds of even more profound errors, which he went on to proclaim to the world in his famous Ninety-Five Theses. His objections went to the very heart of Christianity’s selfunderstanding as a religion of redemption and salvation. What “justified” a Christian believer in God’s eyes and rescued sinners from damnation? It could not be some number of good “works” that the believer was thought to have performed in atonement for sins committed, because no number of good works could be enough to offset that person’s transgressions. No, Luther insisted, the grant of salvation was not something humans could ever deserve, let alone work to earn. Only their faith in Christ, granted to them by God through an act of sheer grace, could secure their salvation. Importantly, too, this was not something that could be bestowed on the individual by a priest, or by the institution of the Church, or by any external actions whatsoever. It was a transaction between the soul of the individual believer and God. The larger implications of this doctrine of “justification by faith” were enormous, and radically unsettling, not only to the Church but to society as a whole. The Catholic understanding of the priesthood had insisted upon the priest as a necessary mediator between individual believers and God. The holy sacraments, such as Holy Communion and Baptism, which only the priest could administer, had been understood as the authentic avenues of God’s grace, not available outside the Church or apart from the ministry of an ordained priest. But if Luther was right, that meant that the Church had been wrong and the priesthood did not perform a necessary function. And

Luther went even further, arguing that a great deal of the theology and structure of the Church, including the authority of the Pope, had been invented without reference to the Bible – a grave error, because only the words of the Bible, he insisted, were authoritative in matters of Christian faith. Hence much of the current structure of the Church was deemed fraudulent and corrupt, because any offices or practices that were not grounded in biblical texts were illegitimate. Individuals did not need the guidance of their priests and bishops and popes; they could read the Bible for themselves, making a direct and unmediated contact with God’s word and freely arriving at their own interpretation of the text’s meaning, according to the dictates of their consciences. Despite the radical challenge represented by these assertions, Luther did not set out to produce a split in the Catholic church. Nor was he at all interested in fomenting political or social revolution. He was quite conservative in such matters, in fact, and consistently emphasized the importance of obedience to established worldly authority. But the forces he had set into motion could not easily be stilled or slowed. Like a snowball rolling down a mountain slope, they gradually became transformed into a fearsome avalanche. Lutheranism swept through Germany with immense force, drawing some of its strength from dissident groups seeking political and social revolution, such as rebellious knights and impoverished peasants, and along the way stimulating the formation of more radical religious sects, known collectively as Anabaptists. Lutheranism also became associated with the political efforts of the princes who ran the free cities and states of the Holy Roman Empire to resist the authority of Catholic emperor Charles V and claim more of that authority for themselves. This led to war and to the eventual fragmentation of Germany into a loose collection of increasingly separate states. The other great theological reformer of the time, the French lawyer John Calvin, came two decades after Luther, publishing his Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536. Calvin’s critique of the Church resembled Luther’s in many respects, but diverged in several critical ways. For one thing, whereas Luther’s appeal was strongest in the German-speaking world and northern Europe, Calvin’s

audience embraced the reform minded all over Europe, including places like the British Isles, where Lutheranism was never to make much headway. There also were notable theological differences. Calvin strongly emphasized the doctrine of predestination, arguing that God’s omnipotence and omniscience meant that he had willed from all eternity those who would be saved, the elect, and those who would be damned. Curiously, the rigidity of this doctrine had a powerful effect on its adherents, quite opposite to what one might think. It did not make them fatalistic or complacent. Instead, it made those who were persuaded of its truth, and convinced of their own election, into paragons of burning conviction, uncompromising perfectionists intent upon living exemplary lives and comprehensively reforming the world, including the Church. In fact, Calvinists understood each person’s labor, no matter how humble or worldly, as a “calling,” a task to be performed as if in service to God, every bit as much as the tasks of clergy would be. In addition, the Calvinists wanted to strip away all that they believed had been wrongly superadded to the Church over the course of its history and thereby restore the Church to something purer and simpler. They wanted the Church to be a community closer to the laity, closer to what it had been in the time of Jesus. Reflecting this quest for simplicity, Calvinism rejected the hierarchical church-governance structure that Lutheranism had taken over from Catholicism. It abolished the institution of bishops in favor of elected bodies made up of ministers and laymen, bringing a measure of democratic self-governance to the church. And yet Calvinism also rejected any hint of subordination of the church to the state, seeking instead to model the state on religious principles and remake the community itself along religious lines. There was in Calvinism a revolutionary energy, a desire to transform the world, that spilled over into all other aspects of life. John Calvin himself enjoyed remarkable success in establishing just such a prototypical community in the Swiss city of Geneva. It became for a time the Protestant Rome, a destination for reformers of all nationalities who came to witness the living example of a true scriptural community, one whose way of life and forms of worship

were regulated by the Bible alone. All over Europe, in places as different as Poland, France, Holland, and Bohemia, dissident groups within established churches found inspiration in Calvin’s Institutes. In Scotland and England, and then later in America, these zealous reform-minded Calvinists would become known as Puritans. Luther and Calvin were not the only important figures of the Protestant Reformation. Much more could be said about the profusion of other religious sects emerging at this moment of profound unsettlement in the history of Europe. It is sufficient for our present purposes to make the broader observation that Western Christianity was fracturing and fragmenting into a great many pieces, often along lines that supported the growth of nationalism. The Reformation was like an earthquake whose tremblings radiated out in unpredictable ways through much of the world. Nearly all the forms of fracture it induced would eventually find a home in the New World, which would become an asylum for religious dissenters and nonconformists. But let us narrow our focus a bit. To understand the eventual character of American religion, as well as American political life, we need to pay special attention not just to the Reformation but to the specific features of the Reformation as it unfolded in England. Like so much else about England, its Reformation unsettlement followed a path all its own, different from that of Continental Europe. At the time that the Reformation was getting under way in Germany, King Henry VIII of England (who reigned from 1509 to 1547) ranked among its fiercest opponents. He was a strong supporter of orthodox Catholicism and an implacable foe of Lutheranism, so much so that when he penned in 1521 a rousing polemic against Lutheran ideas, Pope Leo X gratefully bestowed upon him the title “Defender of the Faith.” But Henry was also a king and faced a looming political problem. His father, Henry VII, whose reign had lasted from 1485 to 1509, had founded the Tudor dynasty that had rescued the English monarchy and nation from years of bitter civil wars and anarchy. The son did not want to see his father’s work undone by permitting that violent and divisive history to be

repeated. He was intent upon sustaining the benefits of Tudor rule and building a strong and durable monarchy. To do that, he needed a male heir to serve as his legitimate successor. Unfortunately, his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, had not been able to give him a son in twenty-three years of marriage, so he asked Pope Clement VII to grant him an annulment, which would free him to marry a second wife, Anne Boleyn, and try again for a son. The pope refused the request for complicated political reasons, including the inconvenient fact that Catherine was the aunt of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (Charles I of Spain), someone whom Clement dared not offend. Henry responded to this rejection angrily, with lightning speed and brutal decisiveness. He separated the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church; made himself its supreme head; replaced the archbishop of Canterbury, who then granted his annulment; and married young Anne Boleyn. He then went on to solidify the change by directing Parliament to pass an Act of Supremacy, to which all subjects were thenceforth required to pledge their obedience. He proceeded to close the monasteries in England and seize their extensive lands, which he then parceled out to his followers as a means of securing their loyalty. In the blink of an eye, he had stripped the Roman Catholic Church of all meaningful power in England. In a sense, this English Reformation that Henry initiated was the exact opposite of Luther’s. Questions of theology, not politics, were what had most exercised Luther. But that was not the case with Henry. In fact, aside from his challenge to the pope’s authority, Henry had no complaints about the doctrines of the Catholic Church. He would have been happy to keep things just as they had been in every respect other than the magisterial status of the pope. It was politics, not theology, that provoked Henry’s break from Rome. Ironically, Henry never managed to obtain the male heir he sought, despite his marriage to Anne Boleyn (whom he would put to death after three years), and despite Anne being followed in rapid succession by four other wives. After Henry’s death in 1547, a turbulent period ensued for English royal politics, in the course of which Catherine’s fiercely Catholic daughter Mary came to the throne and attempted to reimpose Catholicism on England. She

failed, but it was only when she was succeeded in 1558 by Henry’s daughter Elizabeth that stability came at last, and England became firmly committed to an official form of Protestantism, which was called Anglicanism, embodied in a state church to which all English subjects were obliged to belong. But what kind of Protestantism would this be? That would be ambiguous, by design. Elizabeth, an extraordinarily canny woman who would prove to be one of the greatest monarchs in English history, did not want to heighten the religious strife that had overtaken her country in the years before her ascent to the throne; she wanted to end it. But doing so meant leaving room for all varieties of Anglican faith and practice to coexist peacefully, to the greatest extent possible. There were, for example, a great many High Church elements that emphasized the persisting Catholic aspects of the Anglican faith rather than the Protestant innovations. But there were also many younger bishops and other clergy coming into the church who had been trained on the Continent, where they had been exposed to Calvinist ideas. They sought to bring these ideas to bear on the work of reforming the Church of England. There was therefore a strong tension between the inherited Catholic-style orthodoxy with which the newly independent Church of England had begun its institutional life and the reforming zeal Calvinist-influenced clergy and laity now brought to church life. This particular form of compounded unsettlement – division between the Church of England and Rome, plus division between and among the factions within the Church of England – would not only shape English and British history for years to come but lie at the heart of the distinctive shape that American religion would assume a century or more later. These developments matter so greatly to our story because of the eventual prevalence of the English influence in the settlement of North America. But there was nothing inevitable or foreordained about that dominance. In fact, the Spanish were the overwhelmingly dominant colonial power in the western hemisphere for more than a hundred years after Columbus’s first voyages of discovery. At a time

when the English were too preoccupied with their own internal divisions and near-constant conflicts with the French to explore empire building, the Spanish were rising to their greatest political and civilizational heights, enjoying a period of unprecedented flourishing in the arts and literature as well as a free hand to explore and exploit the resources of the New World. Beginning with Columbus’s ventures in the Caribbean, and then with the explorations of Vasco Núñez de Balboa, Ferdinand Magellan, Hernando Cortés, and others, an intrepid group of explorers in the employ of Spain would establish a Spanish presence and a distinctively Spanish pattern of settlement in the New World and would help to make the Spanish Empire into the most powerful on the globe. The motives behind Spain’s imperial push into the New World were very mixed, and cannot be reduced solely to exploitation and greed. There was a strong element of high-minded and passionate religious conviction behind the efforts of Catholic missionaries. These were men and women whose desire to serve God by spreading Christianity to the populations of the Americas meant their venturing into even the most remote and forbidding places and their willingness to endure extreme privation and suffer martyrdom, if necessary, for the sake of their cause. And even the Spanish conquistadors could not have been effective without help from indigenous allies, who saw them as liberators overthrowing the rule of indigenous despots. But there was also a powerful element of naked materialism driving the colonization effort, a readiness to plunder the land for its gold and silver and other riches, without regard for the needs or wishes of the native populations. Indeed, the Spanish treatment of native populations, beginning with the troubling rule of Columbus himself in the Caribbean islands, and extending to that of the conquistadors who undertook the pillaging of the Aztec and Inca civilizations, was often brutally tyrannical and cruelly exploitative, and the Spanish put into effect laws and institutions of colonial governance that froze into place extreme inequalities of wealth and power and reduced the indigenous peoples to the status of subhuman laborers.

It is crucial to keep in mind, though, that the single most important factor leading to the extinction or dramatic reduction of various indigenous peoples after contact with the Spanish was not the cruelty of Spanish rule, but the epidemic spread of Old World diseases such as smallpox, measles, and malaria, to which people in the Americas had never been exposed, and therefore to which they had no natural immunity. Such afflictions would often run rampant through indigenous communities, wiping out entire populations with astonishing speed. This spread of deadly disease was not intentional. It was part of a large, unanticipated, and ultimately mysterious encounter, sometimes referred to as the Columbian Exchange, an encounter between plants, animals, and microbes, that was occasioned by the cultural contact between the Old and New Worlds that Columbus’s voyages had initiated. From the outset, the Spanish government attempted to regulate colonial administration as much as possible, with a view toward making the colonies as profitable as possible for the interests of the mother country. Colonization for the Spanish was an entirely centralized undertaking, following the economic principles of mercantilism and serving the purposes of the Crown, leaving little, if any, room for independent entrepreneurship. There was simply no thought of developing free commerce with the native populations, or more generally of promoting market economies, or otherwise enabling those colonies to mature into free and self-governing societies whose subjects could aspire to the status of citizenship. So although the riches extracted from the Americas helped make the Spanish Empire fabulously wealthy, the colonies themselves would not be permitted to stray far from the control of centralized Spanish authority. In any event, the Spanish dominance over the New World was not to go unchallenged for long. Beginning in the 1520s, French privateers set their sights on raiding and plundering Spanish treasure ships returning from the colonies with their precious cargo. By the mid-1500s, both the Dutch and the English were supporting privateers of their own, such as the “sea dogs” John Hawkins and Francis Drake, cunning independent operators who sought to wreak havoc on Spanish shipping in the Atlantic and

otherwise defy and undermine Spain’s power and influence over its American colonies. Eventually, the disruptive effects of these raids, many of which were being quietly supported by Elizabeth, took a toll. So too did the grave offense taken by Spain over Elizabeth’s execution of her archCatholic relation Mary, Queen of Scots, who was found to be plotting to overthrow her. These outrages would lead the Spanish ruler Philip II to seek a large-scale military confrontation with England, through which he was confident he could crush her ambitions once and for all and reinstate Catholicism as England’s state religion. In 1588, Philip assembled an “Invincible Armada” of 130 ships, the largest such fleet ever seen in Europe to date, which would escort an army of some fifty-five thousand men to invade England. Considering these formidable numbers, the battle could have been highly one-sided. But through a series of favorable developments, including the English fleet’s brilliant strategists and more maneuverable vessels and superior seamanship, as well as an unexpected “Protestant wind” that swept the Spanish fleet out into the North Sea, the English were able to defeat the Armada soundly and decisively. In doing so, they accomplished far more than merely averting any contemplated invasions of England; they changed the balance of power in Europe irreversibly. From 1588, the star of England was in the ascendant, and the star of Spain was in irretrievable decline. The defeat of the Armada had an enormous effect on the kind of culture that North America would come to have, if only by determining the kind of culture it would not have. That is not to say that North America would ever be exclusively English and that all traces of Spanish heritage and influence would disappear from it overnight. Far from it. All one has to do is notice the many Spanish place-names – Los Angeles, Santa Fe, San Antonio – that persisted across the continent to see that this did not happen. But the defeat of the Armada opened the way for England to take the lead in settling North America, and the result would be a continent and nation whose institutions, laws, and government were determined by their English antecedents.

What were the implications of this English dominance? What shape did the English colonies take as a consequence of it? England itself, as an island nation that developed in comparative isolation from other nations’ influences, devised institutions and customs that were very different from those on the European continent. It had a far weaker feudal tradition than its continental rivals, and a far stronger commitment to property rights. As in religion, so in politics and society, the English way of doing things was distinctive. The monarchies of early modern France and Spain embraced absolutism, which meant greater and greater centralization of power in the hands of a single sovereign whose royal prerogatives were grounded in divine right. But the English followed a very different route, creating a system in which the ruler was limited by forces that divided and restrained his power. The Crown had to share power with aristocrats and gentry, who convened independently in a legislative body called the Parliament that, among other things, held the “power of the purse,” the ability to authorize taxes and control the Crown’s access to public monies. The Crown did not control government on the local level, which was handled by counties and towns, each of which had its own roster of local public officials – justices of the peace, sheriffs, magistrates, and the like. And most important of all, the Crown’s power was limited by a generally held conviction that the people possessed certain fundamental rights that no monarch could challenge or violate. Such rights were believed to be grounded in something more permanent than the wishes of rulers. They were seated deep in the unique English tradition of common law, an approach to law that relied on judicial precedents built up over many years by generations of judges. Rights such as the right to trial by jury or protection from unwarranted search and seizure were inviolable because they were enshrined in both law and custom, liberties woven into the warp and woof of English historical development. Another marked difference was the English approach to colonization. Unlike the Spanish, the English tended to approach the project as settlers in the full sense of the term, generally seeking to transplant a recognizably English way of life to the New World. Just as importantly, though, the English approach to colonization was

amazingly decentralized and freewheeling, in ways that reflected the English penchant for enterprise and commerce. In short, English colonization of the New World was not a centrally directed government project. The Crown was, of course, involved in various ways, since it was the Crown that granted licenses to colonize Virginia, as the whole area of North America claimed by England was then known, and there was a recognition that the nation as a whole had a stake in these settlements. But in the end, English colonization was a largely private undertaking. Or rather, it was a haphazard collection of uncoordinated private undertakings, taken on by a diverse group of entrepreneurs, visionaries, and zealots, each seeking the fresh opportunities of the New World for his own purposes, and each being given an extraordinary degree of freedom in pursuing those ends without being steered by a larger national vision. Such initiatives were also facilitated by the ease with which English investors could form joint-stock companies, forerunners of the modern business corporation, which allowed stockholders to pool their capital resources, maximizing their assets while minimizing their potential liabilities, sharing in both the risks and the rewards of colonization. Each of these undertakings, then, had its own profile, its own aspirations, its own distinctive way of understanding America as a land of hope. Hence the contrasts among them could be very striking, and very instructive. Perhaps the sharpest contrast of all came at the very beginning, between the colonies of Virginia and New England. It is a contrast worth exploring in some detail. Virginia came first. The first permanent English colony would be established in 1607 at Jamestown, named for James I, Elizabeth’s successor. The initial inhabitants consisted of some 105 men sent by the Virginia Company, a joint-stock company, in search of lavish material wealth. Their charter from the King could not have been clearer about that central objective: they were empowered “to dig, mine, and search for all Manner of Mines of Gold, Silver, and Copper.” They also located themselves next to a river taking a northwestern direction, a faint indication that they still hoped they

might yet in the course of things stumble upon that elusive passage to India. Unfortunately, nearly all of them were men who had lived their previous lives in town settings and were thus spectacularly ill equipped for almost every aspect of pioneering colonial life. Not only did precious few of them have the requisite knowledge of building, farming, hunting, woodlore, and the like, but the more well-off among them harbored a visceral disdain for most forms of manual labor. They were primarily interested, as was the Virginia Company, in profitable ventures, searching for gold and other precious metals, as well as such absurdly impractical sideline activities as glassblowing and wine production. But they were employees of the Company working for absentee stockholders, and they could not hold private property, so there was no incentive for them to work hard and accumulate wealth. It was a comedy of errors, in a sense, but the results were bitterly tragic. More than half the settlers died during the first winter. Even more of them would have died had it not been for the generous gifts of food made to them by the Powhatan Indians in those early days. The colony was saved from ruin on that occasion by the heroic leadership of Captain John Smith, who imposed military-style discipline on the colonists, declared that only those who worked would be allowed to eat, put down rebellions and mutinies, and established a semblance of peace and harmony – but only temporarily. Such was the pattern of the early years at Jamestown, characterized by constant struggles with disease, starvation, ignorance, and eventually Indian attacks, when the relationship with the Powhatans went sour. Things seemed always on the edge of breakdown, and the absence of women from the colony reinforced the sense of impermanence, since motley groupings of unattached males were not likely to build families or nurture stable social structures. As of 1624, despite in-migration of more than fourteen thousand souls since 1607, the population of Jamestown stood at barely a thousand. In that year, the Virginia Company was dissolved, and Virginia became a royal colony. By then, though, changes were afoot that would lead to genuine stability. For one thing, the institution of private property in the form

of the freehold had finally been firmly established, so that men who had come over as servants could now be landowners and potentially enjoy the status of freemen. This change meant, as John Smith said, that the indolent man who used to “slip from his labour or slumber over his taske” now worked harder in a day than he used to work in a week. What finally saved the colony from certain collapse, though, was the discovery of tobacco, a cash staple crop whose export to the home country and the rest of Europe would buoy up the floundering local economy. By 1639 Virginia’s tobacco production had soared to three million pounds per year, providing a solid, if somewhat less than entirely admirable, source of general prosperity. With prosperity came more orderly political institutions, including a governor and legislative assembly, as well as the construction of roads and other internal improvements and the establishment of the Anglican church. With prosperity, though, came also ever more conflict with the Indians, whose land many settlers coveted as potential fields into which they could expand the cultivation of tobacco. Conflict over these and other matters eventually led to pitched battles, the most famous of which, Nathaniel Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, pitted the wealthiest planters against the less advantaged people of the colony over an anti-expansionist Indian policy that thwarted access to land on the western frontier. By this time, the colonies of New England had emerged, beginning with Plymouth Plantation in 1620 and then Massachusetts Bay in 1630, and they could hardly have been more different from Virginia. Whereas the earliest settlers of Virginia had been motivated primarily by material considerations, the New Englanders were driven almost entirely by religious zeal. Most of them were Puritans, men and women who believed the Church of England had not gone far enough to purge itself of its Catholic corruptions, and despaired of such a cleansing renewal ever taking place in their lifetimes. Most were at least comfortably middle class and thus were not impelled to undertake the perilous voyage to the New World by the spur of material need. Instead, they endeavored to make a fresh new start

for the life of the Christian Church, a New Zion in a new land. More than that, they understood themselves as on a divinely ordained mission, an “errand into the wilderness,” in which they would seek to create “holy commonwealths,” models for the reformation of the Church they left behind. There were important differences in the origins of the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies. The Plymouth colonists, a group sometimes referred to as the “Pilgrims,” were a small group of Separatists who had abandoned the Church of England altogether as a hopelessly corrupted body, preferring to worship in independent congregational (i.e., self-governing) churches. After eleven years of living in exile in the Netherlands, they secured a land patent from the Virginia Company permitting them to establish an English colony where they could practice their faith freely. Over the ocean they came in the Mayflower and made landfall at what is today Cape Cod – outside of the Virginia Company’s jurisdiction and, indeed, outside the jurisdiction of any known government. The leaders of the group were aware of the potential dangers in their situation and were especially worried that the colony might not be able to hold together as a law-abiding entity in the absence of any larger controlling authority. In response, they drafted and signed a short document called the Mayflower Compact, which constituted them as a body politic and committed all the signatories to obey the laws and authorities. It was an important milestone in the development of selfgoverning political institutions, and it followed the same pattern by which the New Englanders were organizing their self-governing churches. Just as in the Congregational churches, ordinary believers came together to create self-governing churches, so with the Mayflower Compact, a group of ordinary people came together to create their own government. It was an astonishing moment in history, though, because it amounted to a real-world dramatization of the increasingly influential idea that civil society was based upon a “social contract” among its members. Here was a case where a group had actually covenanted with one another, and with God. Massachusetts Bay came ten years later but would be much larger and more organized and would have more influence over the

eventual shape of colonial New England. The Massachusetts Bay Company, a group of Puritans led by the wealthy lawyer John Winthrop, received a charter from King Charles I, James’s son. Winthrop and his group were Nonseparating Congregationalists, meaning that, unlike the Pilgrims, they had not yet given up entirely on the Church of England. Nevertheless, in 1630, they undertook the voyage to America with a small flotilla of seven ships, led by the Arbella, aboard which was Winthrop and the charter, which he had shrewdly brought along with him rather than leaving it in England. This would give the colony much more independence, because, unlike Virginia, they would not be controlled by a company board of directors located across the sea. Before they made landfall in America, Winthrop delivered a lay sermon called “A Modell of Christian Charity,” in which he laid out the settlement’s mission and guiding purposes. This speech leaves one in no doubt about the fundamentally religious intentions behind the colony’s existence and the hope that the godly community they were creating could eventually serve as a means of renewal for the Old World they had left behind. Said Winthrop, “We are entered into Covenant with [God] for this work…. For this end, we must be knit together, in this work, as one man…. We must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body…. We must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.” It was an audacious statement under the circumstances. Here they were, countless miles away from anyone or anything that was familiar to them, having just crossed a vast and turbulent ocean, cut off from the civilized world and stranded by their own choice, looking out at a land that must have seemed like little more than an inhospitable wild land to them. These were not reckless adventurers but pious families, most of them comfortably situated middle-class people from East Anglia. And now? Who could possibly imagine that the eyes of all people were upon them? On the contrary, they might as well have been landing on the surface of the moon. No one was watching; no one

could know what they were doing. Surely there must have been some among them who quaked a bit, silently and inwardly, and wondered for a moment if it had not all been an act of madness rather than faith that carried them so far away from all they had known, into the terrors and uncertainties of a strange and forbidding land. Some of the desolation they must have been feeling was well expressed by William Bradford, who led the Pilgrim settlers when they arrived at Cape Cod ten years before: Being now passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before them in expectations, they had now no friends to welcome them, nor inns to entertain or refresh their weatherbeaten bodies, no houses, or much less towns, to repair to, to seek for succor…. Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men? and what multitude of them there were, they knew not: for which way soever they turned their eyes (save upward to Heaven) they could have but little solace or content in respect of any outward object; for summer being ended, all things stand in appearance with a weatherbeaten face, and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hew. If they looked behind them, there was a mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a main bar or gulf to separate them from all the civil parts of the world…. What could now sustain them but the spirit of God and his grace? What, indeed, but their religious faith could have sustained them, just as it had propelled them across the sea? John Winthrop’s words could hardly have been more commanding in that regard. They do not betray any shred of doubt or shadow of turning. The point of calling the colony-to-be a city upon a hill, an image that came straight out of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:14–16, was to declare something beyond the mere declaration that this Puritan settlement would strive to be a godly commonwealth and a beacon of light to the world. It was also saying that the colony would be judged by that same high standard, by the degree to which it

faithfully carried out the terms of the “commission” that God had assigned it. We might be tempted to read this as an expression of religious pride, as perhaps it was. But it was equally an expression of religious humility, of a people choosing to subordinate their selfish desires to the accomplishment of their mission: to make a godly place in the New World, for the sake of the renewal of the Old. So we can see in the contrast between Virginia and New England two of the contrasting aspects of the people and nation that were to come. In Virginia, the motives for settlement were largely material ones, while in Massachusetts Bay, they were frankly religious ones. This is not to say that there were no areas of overlap between the two; Virginia had its distinguished churchmen and Massachusetts Bay its prosperous merchants. But it is fair to say that in the contrast between the two, we can see two very different principles – two different ways of understanding what is meant by the “good life” – on display. Other British North American colonies were to come, and taken together, they formed a remarkably diverse group, covering a wide spectrum of possibilities. But many of them had in common an intentional quality. They were formed with a larger purpose in mind. For example, in New England, the intense rigors of the religiously formed regime that Winthrop sought to establish in Massachusetts naturally created friction and dissidents. Under the leadership of Roger Williams, an intense Puritan minister who argued that church and state should be kept completely separate, and that neither Massachusetts nor any other government had the right to coerce men’s consciences in matters of faith, the colony of Rhode Island was created as an asylum for dissenters. Connecticut, by contrast, was a Puritan offshoot of both Plymouth and Massachusetts, which contained the New Haven colony, the most rigorously Puritan settlement in all New England. The middle colonies of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware would all be different: more ethnically, economically, and religiously diverse. The colony of Pennsylvania was founded in 1682

to be a commonwealth of the Quakers, a radical nonconforming religious group that arose out of the English Civil War. The Quakers, more formally known as the Society of Friends, went even further than the Puritans in their abjuring of the formal rituals and hierarchies of the Catholic church. They eliminated the clergy altogether, eliminated formal services, and eliminated slavish reliance on the text of the Bible. William Penn, its wealthy founder, considered his colony a “Holy Experiment” and offered freedom of worship to Christians, including Catholics and Jews. He promoted the colony tirelessly and encouraged the immigration of Germans and other non-English-speaking groups. His capital city was called Philadelphia, a Greek name taken from the biblical book of Revelation meaning the “City of Brotherly Love.” The last of the continental colonies, Georgia, founded in 1732 with lands carved out of the province of South Carolina, was similarly motivated by brotherly love. It was the brainchild of a group of London philanthropists who were concerned over the problems of urban poverty, and particularly of debtors who were imprisoned for failure to discharge their debt obligations. The philanthropists sought to obtain a grant of land from the King where these unfortunate debtors could be resettled to start their lives anew. King George II saw the advantages of a buffer colony protecting other British holdings from Spanish Florida; he agreed, the land was granted, and General James Oglethorpe took charge of the project. An idealistic if somewhat rigid man, Oglethorpe envisioned Georgia as a utopian experiment, in which there were tight restrictions on landholdings and sales, in which rum and other alcohol was banned, and in which the economy was devoted to producing luxury products like silk and wine, which (as it happened) the Georgia climate did not favor. The experiment collapsed within a few years, and Georgia became an ordinary royal colony. Not all the British colonies reflected such grand intentions on the parts of their founders. The sprawling province of Carolina, for example, was established in 1663 as a payoff by King Charles II to eight nobles who had helped him regain the throne in 1660. The sugar colonies in the Caribbean, such as Jamaica and Barbados,

were sources of great wealth and relied heavily on a particularly harsh form of plantation slavery to produce it. But a striking number of the colonies did reflect idealistic aims, and in that respect they recall the continuing influence of the earliest, most primal impulses that led to the exploration and settlement of the Western world in the first place. The desire to renew the world, to restore it, to recover some portion of the unity that had been lost in the great unsettlement of Europe, to implement more fully some of the ideals that had been set loose in the world by that same unsettlement – all of these hopes and more found ample ground for their further exploration and elaboration in the New World. Most such attempts failed in important respects to fulfill their original intentions. They started out with one vision, but time and chance happened to them all. Puritan New England could not sustain itself; it had lost most of its religious zeal by the end of the seventeenth century. Quaker Philadelphia was no longer dominated by the Quakers by the time of the American Revolution, a victim of its own policies of toleration. Maryland was established to be a refuge for Catholics but quickly became dominated by Protestants. Georgia’s experiment was a grand humanitarian plan that would renew the lives of men, but it fell apart before the expiration of its royal charter, a victim of its own folly and excess, its unrealistic aspirations, and its underestimation of the appeal of sheer human freedom. It is because of stories like these that the historian Daniel Boorstin declared mordantly that “the colonies were a disproving ground for utopias.” There is ample ground for his saying so; it is the ironic side of being a land of hope. Being a land of hope may also mean, at times, being a land of disappointment. The history of the United States contains both. It is hard to have one without the other. But it would be a mistake to leave it at that. The impulse to hope, and to seek to realize one’s hopes in the world, is the inmost spark of the human spirit, every bit as precious as life itself. Much would be learned in the nearly two centuries of British North American colonial life, and much of what was learned came out of the interplay between high hopes and hard realities, and the way in which the one had to learn to accommodate itself to the other. Colonial life was

experimental, and even when experiments fail, something important is learned from them. Above all else, what was being learned and acquired in the English colonies was the habit of self-rule, developed in the lives of free colonists who were too distant from their colonial masters to be governable from afar. That habit of self-rule, grounded in English law and custom, but intensified by distance from England itself, was becoming an indelible part of the colonists’ way of life.




HABIT OF SELF-GOVERNMENT IN THE ENGLISH COLONIES of North America was helped along by the fact that the English ran into so many difficulties in imposing an overall colonial policy. The historian Sir John Seeley would quip in later years that his countrymen had managed to create a great empire “in a fit of absence of mind.” That was an exaggeration, but it captured an important truth: there had been no master plan at the outset of the British Empire, which meant no blueprint to dictate how the British colonies should be organized and arranged. Instead, as we have seen, British colonial settlement had been a haphazard and piecemeal thing, left largely in the hands of private entrepreneurs operating independently of one another, pursuing their own goals. But as it turned out, this very “planlessness” would be a major asset and a source of the English colonies’ success, both economically and politically. Self-government and economic growth are more likely to flourish in circumstances in which people are free of remote external governance and ambitious entrepreneurs are allowed to operate freely, without the constraints imposed by the stifling hand of centralized governmental direction. As has already been observed, the English approach differed markedly in this respect from that of the Spanish, and the difference was not entirely a matter of conscious English choice. It had a lot to do with the general circumstances. England was distracted by its own deep and fundamental internal political turmoil, especially during the extended periods of struggle over the course of the seventeenth century between the English kings and the Parliament for political supremacy. It was not possible to formulate an organized governing strategy for overseas colonies in those days, when the most

important matter at hand was something even more basic: determining what sort of government England would have at home.


An eighteenth-century map showing British possessions in North America following the French and Indian War. The English system of constitutional governance was one of the world’s wonders, but it was not established at one stroke, as the product of some one person’s or one group’s vision. Instead, it evolved organically through a process of many struggles and settlements, the collisions and accommodations between contending parties that are the stuff of historical change. Dramatically different philosophies of government were being played out and fought over in the various parts of Europe during those years.

England was not typical of the times. In much of Europe, it was an age of absolutism, in which the kings of the continent’s increasingly unified and powerful nation-states asserted that they ruled by divine right, as absolute monarchs with supreme authority granted them by God. This meant, in the purest version of the theory, that kings were above the law, not under it – not answerable to constitutions or laws, not to legislative bodies, and not to inherited customs or traditions. Mercantilism, the era’s most influential economic theory, was entirely consistent with this absolutism. Working from an assumption that a nation’s wealth was finite and directly related to its stores of precious metals, mercantilism promoted a high degree of direct governmental intervention in the economy. It used tariffs, trade restrictions, and other forms of centralized control of trade and economic life as ways to protect and promote domestic industries and maximize the flow of gold and silver into the coffers of the mother country. Such absolutist ideas had great appeal to England’s colonial rivals France and Spain and shaped their policies toward their overseas holdings. But absolutism ran flatly against the deepest political and economic traditions of the English, for whom there had long been well-established limits to the power of any king, going back at least to the restraints placed upon King John in the Magna Carta of 1215, and embodied in the practices of the common law and the institution of Parliament. Efforts to impose absolutism in England always had to battle against fierce headwinds. When the Stuart King James I ascended to the throne of England in 1603, and brought with him a belief in divine right, he thereby initiated several generations of heated and often violent conflict between the English kings and their parliamentary opponents. These struggles went on through much of the seventeenth century, seesawing back and forth through years of a bitter and bloody civil war from 1642 to 1651; through the overthrow and execution of James’s successor, Charles I; through the interlude of Oliver Cromwell’s dictatorial Puritan Commonwealth; through the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy; and finally culminating in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. That signal event overthrew James II, thereby discrediting the divine right of kings; established parliamentary supremacy and a far-reaching Bill of Rights; and, along

the way, provided a vital precedent for the American Revolution of 1776. During those turbulent years, colonial affairs in the North American mainland languished on the back burner of English policy. Efforts to control trade and impose mercantile controls that would make these colonies more profitable to England were fitful and ineffective. A series of Navigation Acts were passed by Parliament during those years, but none of them were ever enforced consistently or convincingly. Regulating trade was a big and complicated task, especially when it involved colonies an ocean away, and the English lacked both the means and the will to create the complex bureaucracies needed to do the job. Hence North Americans became accustomed to receiving something less than a firm hand of direction from the mother country. Distance was their friend. By the 1720s, a “wise and salutary neglect” (to use the words of Edmund Burke) became the all but explicit spirit of British colonial policy. Given the absence of any master plan, and the protective buffer of an ocean, experiments in American colonial self-government were free to flourish. To a remarkable degree, the colonies individually repeated struggles very similar to the grand struggle being enacted in English politics. Colonial governors wrestled with their colonial assemblies, just as if they were kinglike executives contending with Parliament-like legislative bodies. They worked toward achieving a balanced equilibrium of forces, establishing little by little the laws and practices and rights that would prevail in each of those particular colonies. Their governments, too, just like that of England, evolved organically, out of conflict and circumstances over many years. Each colony was distinctive; but in many respects, each was an England in miniature. Each had become entirely accustomed to ruling itself. Of course, citizenship and the ability to participate in the political process in these colonies were severely restricted when measured by our present-day standards, since women, Native Americans, and African Americans were not permitted a role in colonial political life. But it is important to keep that fact in correct perspective. Such equality as we insist upon today did not then exist anyplace in the world. That said, no other region on earth had such a high proportion of its adult male population enjoying a free status rooted in the private

ownership of land. A greater proportion of the American population could participate in elections and have a role in selecting their representatives than anyplace else on the planet. These colonists were acquiring the habit of self-rule, and they were not likely ever to want to give it up easily or willingly. Contrast that development with the steadily ebbing Spanish presence in Mexico and Florida, where fractious settlements suffered from the colonial leaders’ need to exert tyrannical control over the native and mestizo (mixed-race) populations, even as they were mesmerized by the endless (and often fruitless) search for gold and silver and other resources they could extract from the land. Like desert travelers hypnotized by a shimmering mirage, they pursued mineral wealth obsessively, showing a near-complete incomprehension of the entirely different forces – freedom, enterprise, room for ingenuity, rule of law, private property rights – that were leading to broad economic success and thriving long-term settlements in the British colonies. Or consider the French in the New World, who formed friendlier relationships with native populations but never got beyond thinking of their thinly populated and widely disbursed settlements as little more than glorified French trading posts. The English approach, propelled by an uncoordinated multitude of private investors who were allowed to pursue their interests as they saw fit, was distinctive, and that distinctiveness would make all the difference. It was not long before these different approaches to colonization came into conflict. The rival European powers had largely been able to steer clear of getting into fights with one another in the New World for most of the seventeenth century; there had been room enough for everyone. But that peaceful state of affairs could not last. In the seventy-five years after the Glorious Revolution there would be four great European and intercolonial wars, the last of which, the Seven Years’ War, would be particularly important to the future of America, where it came to be referred to as the French and Indian War, and would last from 1754 to 1763. The French and Indian War was enormously consequential. It would dramatically change the map of North America. It would also

force a rethinking of the entire relationship between England and her colonies and bring to an end any remaining semblance of the “salutary neglect” policy. And that change, in turn, would help pave the way to the American Revolution. The French and Indian War began to take shape in North America in the early 1750s, when Pennsylvania fur traders and land-hungry Virginians began to venture into new territory, across the Allegheny Mountains and into the Ohio River Valley. Their incursion brought them into contact with French settlements and trading interests and produced an angry reaction from the French, who drove the British interlopers back and proceeded to construct forts in western Pennsylvania to protect their interests. A British delegation, including a twenty-one-year-old militia officer named George Washington, was sent to the French to mediate the conflict, but it returned empty-handed. A subsequent mission to the area, led by Washington, with the goal of building a fort at the site of present-day Pittsburgh encountered armed French resistance and suffered a humiliating defeat. Then, in 1755, British general Edward Braddock was dispatched to Virginia to take care of the situation. After hacking his way through the wilderness of the upper Potomac, though, he found himself soundly defeated by guerrilla forces made up of a combination of Ojibwa Indians and French soldiers. Braddock’s forces sustained some nine hundred casualties, which included the loss of Braddock’s own life. Such disappointing results induced British prime minister William Pitt to dial up the power and make America the principal field of conflict with France in the Seven Years’ War. He recognized far better than most of his contemporaries the enormous ultimate value of North America, and accordingly, he poured resources from the national treasury into the cause – lavishly, even recklessly, in ways that would weigh on the country’s future. He mobilized forty-five thousand troops for the purpose and invested a lot of money – the economist Adam Smith estimated it at £90 million – all the while treating the colonists as partners in the war enterprise. His efforts bore fruit in 1759 with a series of military victories, at Fort Niagara, Lake Champlain, and most decisively of all, on September 13, 1759, at Quebec City, where General James Wolfe made short work of the

French infantry on a plateau known as the Plains of Abraham, an hour-long battle that effectively put an end to French ambitions in North America.


A schematic of the territorial results of the French and Indian War, including the proclamation line of 1763. The map overlies boundaries of present-day states. The war was formally concluded with the Treaty of Paris in February 1763, making French North America a thing of the past, except for two tiny islands off the coast of Newfoundland and a few remaining islands in the Caribbean. England, now more properly called Great Britain, took over Canada and the eastern half of the Mississippi Valley. It was a great victory and seemed to cement British dominance in the New World. But every great victory in war means the creation of a new set of problems in peace, and the French and Indian War was no exception to the rule. This victory would mean the end of the era of “benign neglect,” the source of so much creativity and freedom in the British colonies. Such loose-jointed independence could not be allowed to continue. This outcome was doubly ironic, because the war’s waging and results had produced a surge of pride among American colonials, and the shared experience of war generated in many of them the first stirrings of American national sentiment, the feeling that there was something more than just their shared British language and cultural heritage that bound them together. There were even tentative explorations of some manner of colonial union. That took the form of a meeting held in Albany, New York, in 1754, dubbed the Albany Congress, at which representatives of seven of the thirteen British colonies considered a Plan of Union, proposed by a committee headed by Benjamin Franklin. But it was the British who had won the war, not the Americans, and it was the British who had to pay for it – a mammoth expense, which included putting the nation under the burden of some £58 million of additional debt. As a result, it seemed inevitable that there would have to be a tightening of imperial control over the colonies. As Adam Smith observed, it was no longer possible for the colonies to be considered “provinces of the British empire” which “contribute neither revenue nor military force toward the support of the empire.” In other words, the days of the colonies enjoying a free ride, not being required to pay taxes as British citizens, were over. It made sense to devise an imperial system within which the Americans would pay their

fair share. But how to do this? How to go about the business of consolidating the British Empire, while maintaining the profoundly English tradition of self-rule in its constituent elements? This was not going to be an easy problem to solve. War was not the only common experience beginning to draw the disparate colonies together, laying the groundwork for a national form of consciousness and a commensurately national form of self-rule. Religion, which had from the beginning been one of the mainstays of American colonial life, provided another. It is true that, by the beginning of the eighteenth century, there had been an ebbing of the religious zeal that had motivated the first Puritan and Quaker settlers, as the colonies became more settled and more wealthy and comfortable, less convinced of their dependency on God. But that period of religious lassitude did not last. Beginning in the 1730s, waves of religious and spiritual revival began to sweep up and down the British colonies along the North American coast, a mass movement led by gifted and charismatic evangelical preachers that came to be called the Great Awakening. The coming of what would be called “revivalism” would transform the church life of the colonies and introduce a new, more emotional and experiential approach to worship: the evangelical style. The fuse for this explosion of religious energy was lit by the itinerant minister George Whitefield, a powerfully dramatic and golden-voiced British preacher who arrived in Philadelphia in 1739 and traversed the colonies, everywhere drawing huge crowds of enthusiastic believers who were seeking the “new birth” of sudden religious conversion. Whitefield’s success was a measure of the depth and breadth of the colonies’ religious hunger. But his efforts had been preceded by those of the brilliant American-born theologian Jonathan Edwards, whose preaching at the Congregational church in Northampton, Massachusetts, in the earlier years of the 1730s become famous and, according to many accounts, had transformed western Massachusetts from a spiritual desert to an oasis of piety and spiritual joy. Edwards was a profoundly learned man and a gifted and original thinker who sought to restore the rigor and depth of New England’s

original Calvinism. He wanted to produce repentance in the hearts of his torpid, backsliding listeners, and to do so, he adopted an approach to preaching that was not only intellectually rich but emotionally compelling, filled with extraordinarily vivid and concrete imagery that would use the senses to make tangible the ideas and principles about which he was teaching. He is particularly famous today for his 1741 sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” delivered to the congregation at Enfield, Massachusetts, which is notable for its fiery depiction of the fearful torments of damnation and the greatness of human dependency upon God. But such “fire and brimstone” is not typical of Edwards, and some of his finest sermons were devoted to the experience of spiritual awakening and the workings of divine grace. For example, he concluded “A Divine and Supernatural Light” (1734) with these mystical words: “This light, and this only, has its fruit in a universal holiness of life. No merely notional or speculative understanding of the doctrines of religion will ever bring to this. But this light, as it reaches the bottom of the heart, and changes the nature, so it will effectually dispose to a universal obedience.” There were other important transformative effects of the Great Awakening. It was, to begin with, an event that had been experienced throughout the colonies as something fresh and new – a form of religious expression that was dramatically different from the inherited and transplanted religious beliefs and practices that the colonists’ forebears had brought with them. It emphasized individual conversion and behavior more than adherence to orthodox doctrine and forms. It appealed directly to the common people – to laborers, servants, farmers, and the like. It caused, in church after church, challenges to the established clergy and old, entrenched leadership class of those churches, often leading to congregational divisions and bitter institutional splits between the old and the new – Old Lights versus New Lights, Old Side versus New Side. In the end, it established a freewheeling evangelical individualism, operating independently of church discipline and authority, that became one of the hallmarks of American religion, especially in the North. All across the colonies, something like the principle of self-reliance was penetrating even to the inmost life of religious believers.

Similar currents of thought were evident, though, in secular channels of early American thought. If religion was congenial to colonial America, so too were the ideas of the Enlightenment, a diverse and powerful intellectual movement whose chief figures understood the world as a rational and orderly place governed by natural laws that could be discovered and made fully intelligible to the human mind through the careful and disciplined methods of modern experimental science. America would prove to be especially fertile ground for the Enlightenment, since it was a new land, a land of new societies – a land of nature rather than culture. What it lacked in the rich traditions and vast historical background of the mother country, it made up precisely in its freedom from the weight of historical baggage, its openness to experiment, its can-do optimism, and its ability to set aside whatever was customary, instead taking a fresh look at things, starting from no authority but reason. It was not a coincidence that America would become the first place on earth where the idea that each individual possessed natural rights – rights that derived from nature or God, not from the hand of any king or agency of government – would take hold strongly. The Enlightenment would be yet another expression of Europe’s unsettlement, every bit as powerful and important in its effects as the Reformation. It arose out of the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century, which overthrew the ancient earth-centered view of the cosmos, enshrined since the time of Aristotle, and all the antiquated preexperimental science that came with it. The revolution was aided by certain crucial inventions, such as dramatic improvements in optical devices like telescopes and microscopes, but above all else, it was a revolution in thought. Through the work of distinguished scientists, such as Sir Isaac Newton, who developed modern calculus as a tool for the measurement of continuous change, this revolution established universal laws of motion that could be formulated in precise mathematical language. Before Newton, there was no dynamic theory of motion – one that could, for example, explain what physical forces were at work causing the moon to orbit the earth rather than merely careen out into space and causing other celestial bodies to move in more or less circular

paths. After Newton, gravitation entered the world picture as an explanation and as a force that could be quantified and precisely calculated: the attractive force of gravity between two objects was directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. The laws of motion that Newton propounded applied as much to earth-bound things as to celestial ones; there was one set of laws for all physical reality. But this intellectual revolution had further repercussions. It provided a way of thinking about the world – as law based, orderly, and intelligible, its secrets fully accessible to the mind of man – that seemed to have unlimited application. Similar explanatory principles could, in theory, be extended to all other subjects of human inquiry: not just astronomy, not just the physical sciences, but also politics, society, economics, and all other forms of human activity and relationship. If clear and understandable natural laws could be found to undergird the movement of the planets and all other physical objects, there seemed no reason why similar laws could not be discovered at the root of everything else. No American figure epitomized the Enlightenment more fully than Benjamin Franklin. None better exemplified the opportunities that America provided an energetic and self-reliant young man, who came into the world without any credentials or pedigree, to rise in the world by the sheer power of his ambition, pluck, and innate genius. Born in 1706 to a pious Puritan candlemaker in Boston, Franklin ran away from home at the age of seventeen and came to Philadelphia, where he quickly established himself as a printer. It did not take long for him to begin making his mark. By the age of twenty, he was publishing the Pennsylvania Gazette, an influential forum for political and social commentary. Then, a few years later, he began publishing the yearly Poor Richard’s Almanack, an entertaining collection of weather forecasting, poems, witty aphorisms (“Lost time is never found again” or “Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead”), and puzzles that made his larger reputation and became a mainstay of colonial life. In his early forties, Franklin retired from business and devoted himself instead to his many other interests, which included the

scientific study of electricity and other phenomena. He won international fame for his work in these areas and also as a fountain of practical inventiveness, with innovations such as the Franklin stove, the glass harmonica, the lightning rod, bifocal glasses, and countless other creations to his credit. His creativity also extended to social and institutional inventions: he founded the first circulating library in America, one of the first volunteer fire departments, the American Philosophical Society, and the first hospital in Philadelphia and the forerunner of the University of Pennsylvania. Perhaps most important of all, his wise and pragmatic guidance and diplomatic skills would be of crucial importance to the greatest social innovation of his day: the United States of America. In a sense, Jonathan Edwards and Benjamin Franklin could be taken as contrasting symbols of the two most distinctive intellectual currents of the time in British colonial America. But they are not as contrasting as they might look at first glance. It might seem logical to us today that there would be a necessary incompatibility and antagonism between the passionate Bible-based Protestant religious faiths of colonists like Edwards and the methodical new science embraced by the likes of Franklin – particularly when the logic of Newton’s mechanistic model of the cosmos was pressed to its limits. But this was not quite the way things looked to Americans of the time. In the Anglo-American world of the eighteenth century, the spirit of Protestantism and the spirit of science were not seen to be in fundamental conflict with one another. Belief in some version of the biblical God and belief in an ordered and knowable universe were not seen as at all incompatible. There was a high degree of tolerance of religious differences, a by-product of the remarkable religious diversity of the colonies. Beliefs easily intersected; Edwards himself had a keen interest in Newton’s new science and saw the orderliness of nature as evidence of God’s masterly design, while Franklin, who tended toward Deism in his own beliefs, was captivated by George Whitefield’s preaching, and by its salutary effects upon his listeners, when the latter came to Philadelphia. It is also the case that, despite their differences, these two currents had certain important features in common. They shared a skepticism about received or traditional institutions and a lack of

deference to established forms of authority, whether in the church or in politics. Both understood themselves as an expression of the spirit of liberty. No less than the Enlightenment, the Great Awakening and the Protestant revivalism it embodied weakened the power of all traditional churches and clergy, Protestant and Catholic alike, and indeed of all figures of authority, while making the emerging forms of religious life dependent upon the judgments of each person’s free and uncoerced conscience. Such changes would have effects far beyond matters of religion. Among other things, they would make it easier for the American colonists, who were beginning to think of themselves as a distinct people, to contemplate an act of rebellion against King and empire. In the wake of the French and Indian War, a huge new British Empire now encircled the globe – which meant that the long-deferred problem of imperial organization, or disorganization, finally had to be faced, particularly with respect to the American colonies. Theoretically, those colonies were entirely subject to the King and Parliament, but in practice, that authority had never been effectively exercised. Parliament had never tried to raise revenue in America, and Benjamin Franklin himself firmly opposed the idea, stating that doing so without the colonists’ consent would be tantamount to “raising contributions in an enemy’s country” rather than “taxing Englishmen for their own benefit.” And that was precisely how many of the colonists saw the matter. But that did not mean that Parliament did not have a legal and legitimate right to raise such taxes, should it ever choose to do so. Under the policy of “salutary neglect,” the matter had been left dangling. That would not continue to be the case much longer. Even before the formal conclusion of the war, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1763, the British were moving toward consolidating the empire. One notable example occurred in 1761, when the use of general search warrants (known as writs of assistance) was authorized as a way of allowing British customs officials to crack down on colonial smugglers who were trading with the French in the West Indies. They could enter any place for any reason, in search of evidence of illegal trade.

Americans reacted in horror to this invasion of their privacy and violation of their rights, and a group of merchants hired Boston lawyer James Otis to fight the writs in court. Otis lost the case, but his argument that the very institution of the writs violated the British constitution was an argument that made great sense to his clients and supplied an important precedent for the years ahead. Another burdensome issue facing the British was what to do about the lands west of the Appalachian Mountains, which were still inhabited by Indian tribes. The victory over the French had given British colonial settlers new impetus to westward expansion into Indian lands; such intrusions had in turn precipitated a bloody reaction, known as Pontiac’s Rebellion, in which the embattled tribes attempted to push white settlers back across the mountains and toward the ocean. The rebellion failed, but the British wanted to forestall any repeat experience and thus, in response, adopted a new western policy: by the terms of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, no settlers were to cross an imaginary line running across the tops of the Appalachian Mountains. This edict was understandably unpopular with Americans, but the public response to it was relatively subdued, partly because it did not directly involve taxation and settlers felt free to defy it. It appeared to be yet another grand but ineffective measure, like those that had been tried and failed in the past. But there was a far more intense reaction against other measures soon put forward under the leadership of Prime Minister George Grenville, a flinty, hardheaded accountant who was determined to make the prosperous Americans pay some of the cost for their own protection. The Sugar Act, proposed in 1764, placed tariffs on sugar, tea, coffee, and wine, all products that Americans needed to import. Smugglers who were accused of violating the act were to be tried before British naval officers in a maritime court based in Halifax, in which they would not enjoy the presumption of innocence. And in a further intrusion into the colonies’ customary practices of selfgovernance, the Currency Act of 1764 sought to end the colonies’ practice of printing their own paper money as a means of easing currency shortages.

Neither measure had a positive effect. The Currency Act only deepened the postwar economic decline from which the colonies were suffering, and the Sugar Act failed to produce any additional revenue, since whatever monies it took in by more rigid enforcement of the Sugar Act were more than offset by the bureaucratic costs of administering it. But the message was clear: after the French and Indian War, and under the leadership of Grenville, the era of Britain’s easygoing inattention to the colonies was screeching to a halt. And there was much more to come. The pace of intrusion quickened even more in 1765, when Parliament produced the Stamp Act, which required that revenue stamps be purchased and affixed to legal documents and printed matter of all kinds, ranging from newspapers to playing cards. The same year, Grenville directed Parliament to pass the Quartering Act, which required the colonial legislatures to supply British troops with barracks and food wherever they were – in effect, another form of taxation. The justification offered for both measures was that they legitimated means by which the colonists could be induced to help pay for their own defense. But the Stamp Act did not work either; in fact, it did not produce any revenue at all. The colonists simply refused to abide by it. Why did they react so strongly? For one thing, it was because this Act involved direct taxation rather than trade policy and as such raised the specter in colonists’ minds that the whole fabric of their relatively free existence might be in eventual jeopardy. In the words of Boston clergyman Jonathan Mayhew, almost every British American “considered [the Act] as an infraction of their rights, or their dearly purchased privileges.” Virginia’s Patrick Henry insisted that his colony’s House of Burgesses had “the only and sole and exclusive right and power to lay taxes” and that Parliament had no such right or authority. Protests against the Stamp Act were everywhere, a veritable flood of pamphlets, speeches, resolutions, and public meetings in which the cry of “no taxation without representation” was heard far and wide. Some protests turned violent, with British stamp officials being harassed, vandalized, and hanged in effigy, the stamps themselves confiscated and burned. By the time the law was to take effect in November 1765, it was already a dead letter.

Once again, Grenville and Parliament had grossly misjudged the situation. Grenville concocted a doctrine called “virtual representation” to explain how it was that the colonists could be represented in Parliament even if they could not send their own popularly elected members to take part in it. Some Britons found this idea persuasive, but the colonists, deeply rooted as they were in the habit of self-rule, and already thoroughly accustomed to using their own colonial representative assemblies, dismissed it as rubbish and sophistry, incompatible with the principle that government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. Grenville’s aggressive actions portended a radical overturning of their accustomed way of life and an imposition of the very same royal tyranny that the English themselves had fought against so valiantly in the seventeenth century, and from which Parliament had finally saved them in the Glorious Revolution. It was as if the same history was being reenacted, with many of the same danger signs in evidence. Why were the British imposing a standing army in the western lands, if not to confine and suppress the colonists? Why were the new vice-admiralty courts overriding the primordial English commitment to trial by jury, if not for the purpose of imposing the heavy hand of empire upon local liberty? Why was Parliament infringing upon the colonial assemblies’ power of the purse, thereby depriving them of one of the most fundamental of English rights? The colonists had a pattern close at hand in their own history that could make sense of these questions. Finally, the British appeared to pull back from the brink. In 1766, Grenville was dismissed from office and replaced by the more flexible and sympathetic Marquis of Rockingham. In addition, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act. But what Parliament was giving with one hand it was taking away with the other. On the same day that it repealed the Stamp Act, it passed a Declaratory Act stating that Parliament’s power over the colonies was unlimited in principle and that it could enact whatever law it wished “to bind the colonies and people of America.” This assertion was more than just a face-saving gesture. It was stating, under the cover of reconciliation, an unambiguous principle of sovereignty to which Parliament could turn and which it could invoke decisively in future battles.

For the British had not abandoned the goal of consolidating the empire, and that inevitably meant finding a way to tax the colonies. The next nine years of fractious history represented a steadily intensifying effort on Britain’s part to establish the imperial control that had so far eluded them, met by a steadily mounting resistance on the colonists’ part, and accompanied by a growing awareness on the colonial side that the issues separating them from the mother country were becoming deeper by the day and were perhaps even irreconcilable. The Declaratory Act offered clear evidence that lurking beneath all the particular points of conflict between England and America were fixed and sharply divergent ideas: about the proper place of America in the emerging imperial system, about the meaning of words like self-rule, representation, constitution, and sovereignty. It was a genuine debate, in which both sides had legitimate arguments. But it did not help that, as time went by, British leaders seemed less and less inclined to listen to the colonial perspective and more inclined to crush it. What followed, in the years after the Stamp Act contretemps, was a series of inconclusive conflicts that seemed, in retrospect, to do little but heighten the inevitability of armed conflict. The next round began in 1767, when the chancellor of the exchequer, Charles Townshend, introduced a new revenue plan that included levies on glass, paint, lead, paper, and tea imported into the colonies. To this the colonists responded with boycotts of British goods, with efforts to promote colonial manufacturing and with a growing radical resistance movement, headed by firebrand agitators like the brewer Samuel Adams of Boston. Eventually, after the 1770 Boston Massacre resulted in the deaths of five Americans at the hands of British soldiers, Parliament repealed all the Townshend duties, except the one on tea. Things settled down somewhat until 1773, when a group of sixteen disguised colonists dumped a load of East India Company tea into Boston Harbor, thus carrying out the famous Boston Tea Party. This incident immediately elicited an enraged response from Parliament in the form of four Coercive Acts, or as the colonists called them, Intolerable Acts. They annulled Massachusett’s charter, closed Boston harbor, forced colonists to quarter British troops, and moved

trials for capital crimes outside of the area in which the crimes were committed. These actions were designed to take control of the legal and economic system, turn Boston into an occupied city, and thereby single it out for visible humiliation, making it an ominous example to all the others. This divide-and-conquer strategy did not work either. Instead, it caused the other colonies to rise up and rally to Boston’s cause, not only by sharing supplies and intensifying boycotts of British goods but by inducing them to convene a first-ever Continental Congress that would represent the interests of all the colonies – a clear step in the direction of a political union. When the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in September 1774, it formally endorsed the various forms of lawful resistance to the Coercive Acts, particularly the boycotts, and endorsed a Declaration of American Rights, which expressed the colonial view as to the limited authority of Parliament. Exactly how to define the extent of that limitation, however, was a matter about which there would be disagreement. Did Parliament retain the right to regulate trade alone – or was even that right now in question, as the Boston lawyer John Adams, a cousin of Sam Adams, asserted? In the meantime, the boycott movement was becoming more effective, tapping into the patriotic passions of thousands of ordinary Americans who were willing to express their alarm at the British threats to American liberty. It was the same common people – farmers and working men – who volunteered to serve in militias, such as the Minutemen of Massachusetts, for the same reasons. This was no longer the behavior of loyal subjects but increasingly that of liberty-loving citizens yearning to remain free and restore their customary practices and legal rights. A profound shift of sensibility was taking place. As John Adams asserted, reflecting many years later on the events he had lived through, “The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations.” The people of America were disposed to revere their King and their British institutions; but when they saw their King, and all in authority under him, renouncing “the laws and constitution derived to them from the

God of nature and transmitted to them by their ancestors” and behaving like tyrants, “their filial affections ceased, and were changed into indignation and horror…. This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.” It was a revolution of the mind and heart they had begun. The direction of this gathering storm was clear to the British leadership, which was more disposed than ever to have a showdown with the colonies. Britain’s King George III put it bluntly: “The New England governments are in a state of rebellion. Blows must decide whether they are to be subject to this country or independent.” In this respect, he faithfully reflected the general state of British opinion, which wanted to bring to a swift end what looked increasingly like sheer insurrection on the part of a maddeningly ungrateful people. The fuse of war was lit at last in April 1775, when orders reached the royal governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Gage, to move aggressively to stop the rebellion. Gage decided to march seven hundred red-coated British troops to Concord, a town about twenty miles west of Boston, where he would seize a militia supply depot that had been established by the Patriot forces. Along the way, in the town of Lexington, the British encountered a rag-tag group of seventy Minutemen in the town common. It was dawn, but the men were there because they had been warned, by the famous midnight ride of Paul Revere, that the British were coming. After some taunting shouts and argument, the Patriot militiamen were beginning to withdraw – but then a shot was fired, leading the British to fire on the group, killing eight of them. Then the British marched on to Concord, where they encountered half-empty storehouses and stiff resistance, as alerted militiamen swarmed into the area. After losing fourteen men in a skirmish at Concord’s North Bridge, the British began to retreat to Boston and faced withering and deadly fire along the entire bloody way back. In the end, the British lost three times as many men as the Americans. So the war had begun, and the conflict spread to Fort Ticonderoga in upper New York, and to the hills overlooking Boston, where the Americans again showed their military mettle, inflicting over a

thousand casualties on a startled British Army in the Battle of Bunker Hill. But the war’s objectives were not yet clear, since independence had not yet been declared. Even some who identified wholeheartedly with the Patriot cause still found it impossible to contemplate such a final break from Britain. John Dickinson of Pennsylvania had poignantly expressed their anxieties at the time of the Townshend Acts: “If once we are separated from our mother country, what new form of government shall we accept, or when shall we find another Britain to supply our loss?” It seemed to him that the American colonies were too weak and divided to constitute themselves as a nation and that the ties of common culture with Britain were too many and too strong to be broken without incalculable and fatal loss. “Torn from the body to which we are united, by religion, liberty, laws, affections, relations, language, and commerce, we must,” he feared, “bleed at every vein.” And that was not all. There might be even worse fates in store than being tyrannized by the British Crown. There might be domination by other hostile powers. And the disturbances in Boston and elsewhere suggested the possibility of mob rule and anarchy. Several more things had to happen for the movement to independence to become unstoppable. First, the British government refused to consider any form of compromise. King George III summarily rejected a conciliatory appeal known as the Olive Branch Petition, written by Dickinson, refusing even to look at it, and choosing instead to label the colonists “open and avowed enemies.” Then the King began to recruit mercenary Hessian soldiers from Germany to fight the Americans, a gesture that the colonists regarded as both insulting and callous, a way of signaling that they were no longer fellow Englishmen. Finally, there was the publication in early 1776 of Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense, which argued with bracing logic for the “necessity” of independence, artfully directing colonial grievances away from the impersonal Parliament and focusing them instead upon the very personal figure of the King himself, whom Paine then attacked not only in the form of the current monarch (whom he mocked as a “Royal Brute” and a “Pharaoh”) but in the very idea of monarchy itself. Oddly, Paine himself was a Briton who had only been

in America a year, a rootless and luckless soul in his late thirties who had failed at nearly everything else he had attempted. But he proved to have a talent for political agitation and stirring rhetoric. He had brought with him a deep commitment to the idea of natural rights and the republican ideal of self-rule, along with a vivid and explosive prose style that made the case for complete independence with greater power and grace than anyone before him. His pamphlet was read by or known to virtually everyone in the colonies and sold more than 150,000 copies (roughly the equivalent of three million copies today) within the first three months of 1776. Its effect was electrifying. “Common Sense is working a powerful change in the minds of men,” admitted George Washington, who would soon be a leader of the Patriot cause. Paine had connected the dots as no one before him had done and had brought sharp definition to an unsettled situation. He made the path forward unmistakably clear. Finally, at the urging of the provincial governments, the Continental Congress began to move decisively toward independence. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia introduced a motion on June 7 “that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.” The resolution passed on July 2, which really should be the day that Americans celebrate Independence Day. But it was two days later, on the Fourth of July, that the Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, a remarkable document, drafted mainly by the thirty-three-year-old Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, that served at once as a press release to the world, listing the specific reasons for the Americans’ actions, but also as a presentation of the key elements of a foundational American political philosophy. It was, and has continued to be, a document that had both practical and philosophical dimensions and that carried both particular and universal meanings. Reflecting on the matter nearly fifty years later, a year before his death in 1826, Jefferson explicitly and rightly disclaimed any great originality in his ideas. “I did not consider it any part of my charge to invent new ideas,” he insisted; his goal in writing the Declaration was “not to find out new principles” but to “place before mankind the common sense of the subject” and formulate “an expression of the American mind” that would draw its authority from “the harmonizing

sentiments of the day.” In other words, he sought to articulate the things about which nearly all Americans agreed rather than staking out territory that might be regarded as controversial. In some of his text, he drew upon his own political writings and on those of his fellow Virginian George Mason, but the deep structure of the argument came straight out of John Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government, particularly the idea that civil society was best understood as a contract between and among its constituent members. Accordingly, Jefferson proclaimed it a “self-evident” truth that all men were created equal and were endowed by their Creator – and not by their government or any other human authority – with certain rights, including “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Governments existed to secure these rights and derived their powers from the consent of the governed – a crisp statement of the basic principle of self-rule. When a government failed to secure those rights and failed to sustain the consent of the governed, when it evinced a “design” to deprive the colonists of their liberty, it was no longer a just regime, and the people had the right to abolish and replace it – which is to say, they had a right of revolution. A long list of grievances followed, laying nearly all the blame at the feet of the King, following the personalization strategy that Paine had so expertly deployed in Common Sense. “He has refused his Assent to Laws…. He has dissolved representative houses…. He has obstructed the Administration of Justice.… He has kept among us standing armies.… He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people…. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.” The grievances built forcefully to the Declaration’s inescapable conclusion, echoing the words of Lee’s motion: “That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and … have full power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.”

The Declaration was a magnificent and enduringly influential document, read and admired around the world as one of the greatest of all charters of human dignity and freedom. Its eloquence gave immense impetus and plausibility to the colonial cause, while at the same time strengthening the cause of liberty in France and other places around the world. Yet many questions remained unanswered. The document was very clear about the form of union it was rejecting. But what kind of union was it embracing? What would it mean to have a colonial union of free and independent states – was that not a contradiction in terms? How was it possible to be both united and independent? And then there were those pregnant words, “all men are created equal.” What did they mean? Did they contemplate equality in only the narrowest sense – that the colonists were in no way politically inferior to the arrogant Britons who were trying to deprive them of their rights? Or was there a larger and more universal sense to those words? Did they apply only to males, or did the term men tacitly include women? Were they compatible with the obvious forms of inequality, of wealth and ability and status, that had existed in all previous human societies? And what about the institution of slavery, the very existence of which in all thirteen colonies in 1775 would appear to call into question the legitimacy of Jefferson’s most resonant words? Jefferson himself owned slaves, despite his moral misgivings about the institution of slavery and his consistent denunciation of the Atlantic slave trade as an “abomination.” What did he think he was saying when he wrote those words about “all men”? How could those words accommodate an institution that permitted ownership in human flesh? How to answer the gibes of men like the English theologian John William Fletcher who sneered that the Americans were “hypocritical friends of liberty who buy and sell and whip their fellow men as if they were brutes, and absurdly complain that they are enslaved”? But all these questions lay in the future, and answering them would be one of the principal tasks facing the new nation for the next 250 years. The Revolution was prosecuted by imperfect individuals who had a mixture of motives, including the purely economic motives of businessmen who did not want to pay taxes and the political

conflicts among the competing social classes in the colonies themselves. Yet self-rule was at the heart of it all. Self-rule had been the basis for the flourishing of these colonies; self-rule was the basis for their revolution; self-rule continued to be a central element in the American experiment in all the years to come. Perhaps nothing better illustrates that centrality than an interview given in 1843 by Captain Levi Preston, a soldier who fought the British at Concord in 1775 and was interviewed at the age of ninetyone by a young Mellen Chamberlain. “Captain Preston, why did you go to the Concord Fight, the 19th of April, 1775?” The old man, bowed beneath the weight of years, raised himself upright, and turning to me said: “Why did I go?” “Yes,” I replied; “my histories tell me that you men of the Revolution took up arms against ‘intolerable oppressions.’” “What were they? Oppressions? I didn’t feel them.” “What, were you not oppressed by the Stamp Act?” “I never saw one of those stamps, and always understood that Governor Bernard put them all in Castle William. I am certain I never paid a penny for one of them.” “Well, what then about the tea-tax?” “Tea-tax! I never drank a drop of the stuff; the boys threw it all overboard.” “Then I suppose you had been reading Harrington or Sidney and Locke about the eternal principles of liberty.” “Never heard of ’em. We read only the Bible, the Catechism, Watts’s Psalms and Hymns, and the Almanack.” “Well, then, what was the matter? and what did you mean in going to the fight?” “Young man, what we meant in going for those red-coats was this: we always had governed ourselves, and we always meant to. They didn’t mean we should.” And that, concluded Chamberlain, was the ultimate philosophy of the American Revolution.



DECLARING INDEPENDENCE WAS THE EASY PART. IT WAS NOT hard to produce a convincing manifesto and advance the glorious cause in elegant and ringing words. It was not hard to manage a few small and scattered military triumphs, even if they depended on the element of surprise and were little more than pinpricks that served to annoy the British and frustrate their intentions. But soon the immensity of the task ahead became clear and the warnings and admonitions of men like John Dickinson – a Patriot who had nevertheless opposed the Declaration, deriding it as a “skiff made of paper” – began to seem prophetic. How on earth did the American revolutionary leaders imagine that they could prevail against the greatest military power and most powerful empire in the world? They went into the struggle with huge disadvantages. To begin with, the country, which was hardly even a country yet, was not fully united in embracing the revolutionary cause. We often assume that everyone in the colonies was solidly on board for independence, but that was very far from being the case. It is hard to know for sure, but perhaps as many as one-third of Americans remained loyal to the Crown and opposed the Revolution; another third seemed to be indifferent as to the outcome. Even the remaining third who supported independence had divergent motives for doing so. And the emerging country did not yet have a coherent or effective national political organization; as we have already seen, the Declaration itself was carefully ambiguous as to exactly what kind of national union these “free and independent states” were going to form together. In addition, there could be no guarantee that such unity as could be summoned in the summer of 1776 would survive through the

years of a rigorous, punishing war. The Americans could field only the most rudimentary, ill-trained, and poorly supplied army; they had no navy to speak of, little money, and no obvious means of raising funds to build and support these essential military components. The deck seemed to be stacked against them. On the very day in which independence was voted on by the Continental Congress, the British were easily able to land, facing no resistance, a large contingent of troops on Staten Island at the mouth of New York Harbor, the first installment in what would by August swell to a siege force of more than thirty thousand. They were not impressed by the Americans’ brave and high-flown words. An American victory under such circumstances seemed a pipe dream. But the Americans enjoyed certain very real advantages, and those would soon become clear. First, there was the fact that they were playing defense. They would not need to take the war across the ocean to the motherland of Britain to win. They needed only to hold on long enough at home to exhaust their opponent’s willingness to fight, to drag things out long enough to saddle the British with an economically draining, tactically difficult, and logistically challenging war, conducted half a world away. In such a conflict, with time on their side, the Americans could lose most of the battles but still win the war. Given the desire of other European powers – notably the French, who were still licking their wounds after their costly defeat in the French and Indian War fourteen years before – to see an ever more dominant Britain dealt a severe blow and put in its place, it was entirely possible that the colonies could find allies among Britain’s enemies. If France, Britain’s perpetual foe, could be persuaded to support the American cause, that could make all the difference and compensate for the inherent weaknesses of the American position. The Americans also had a second advantage. They were blessed with an exceptional leader in the person of George Washington, a man of such fine character that he automatically commanded the admiration and loyalty of nearly all Americans and thereby served as a unifying force. He was a proven Patriot, as he had from the beginning strongly opposed the various coercive acts of the British Parliament, and was thoroughly committed to the preservation of the colonists’ rights and freedoms. Moreover, he was willing to leave a

pleasant and comfortable life at his Mount Vernon estate to lead the colonial opposition. When he showed up at the Second Continental Convention in Philadelphia, he was wearing his military uniform, signaling for all to see that he was ready to fight for the colonial cause. The Congress acted accordingly, making him commander in chief of the Continental Army in June 1775. He accepted the position, on condition that he receive no pay for it. His insistence upon that condition tells us a great deal about the man. Intrepid, courageous, charismatic, wise, tireless, and always learning, George Washington was the indispensable man to lead the war effort. He had extensive military experience and looked the part of a natural leader, impressively tall and muscular, with a dignified gravity in his bearing that led all to treat him with instinctive respect. But even more, he was known and admired as a man of exceptionally noble character who self-consciously modeled himself on the classical republican ideal of the unselfish, virtuous, and public-spirited leader, a man who disdained material rewards and consistently sought the public good over private interest. Like a great many other Americans of his day, Washington was deeply influenced by Joseph Addison’s 1713 play Cato, a Tragedy, a popular and powerful drama about the meaning of honor. The play depicts the virtuous life of its subject, the ancient Roman senator Cato the Younger, who sacrifices his life in opposing the incipient tyranny of Julius Caesar. It was an example Washington took to heart. He saw the play performed a great many times and frequently quoted or paraphrased it in his correspondence and had it performed in front of his soldiers. Cato’s lofty example was the example he wished to emulate; much of the American public shared his admiration and would respond well to the prospect of his leadership. The greatest immediate challenge facing Washington was to recruit and deploy a disciplined and effective American army. This was no easy task, and it would continue to be a problem through the entire conflict. Even at the very outset, Washington experienced a taste of what was to come, with the constantly fluctuating numbers of troops at his disposal. In August 1776, he had twenty-eight thousand men under his command; by December, that number had shrunk to a mere

24 October 2021 - Open: Open Minds

Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story

Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story is a high school or college-level course on the history of the United States. the course consists of a textbook, a student workbook, and a teacher's guide. While the textbook can be read on its own or used with the Hillsdale course described below, the three course components work very well together. They will be most useful in a course with two or more students who can discuss questions and compare ideas, but they can be used for independent study as long as a parent or teacher helps guide the student as to which questions to answer and in what manner.

The Textbook

The textbook relates the history of the United States in a clear-eyed fashion while stressing the great opportunity and positive effects of our country’s unique experiment in self-governance. Author Wilfred McClay says in his introduction (p. xi) that the primary objective of the book is "to offer to American readers, young and old alike, an accurate, responsible, coherent, persuasive, and inspiring narrative account of their country─an account that will inform and deepen their sense of the land they inhabit and equip them for the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship."

McClay primarily follows political events rather than taking a social studies approach to U.S. history. For example, when he discusses the Progressive movement, he mentions the key leaders and cultural developments they influenced (e.g., the eugenics movement), but his primary focus is on the Progressive movement’s impact on political events and government.

The textbook for Land of Hope is very well written in a narrative style that makes it easy to read. Here’s a sample from the conclusion of Chapter 17: The New Deal on page 315.

How quickly his [President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s] fortunes had turned. After November 1938, there would be no more Hundred Days explosions of legislative activity. Roosevelt’s New Deal had made dramatic and permanent changes in the landscape of American life and had eased the effects of a very great economic calamity. His spirit and his words had restored the nation’s spirit. But his policies had not solved the problems of the economy and had not returned the country to full employment. It would take, not the moral equivalent of war, but war itself to accomplish that.

Aside from a few maps, there are no illustrations in the textbook. While the book is mostly text, it doesn’t seem intimidating or overwhelming because it’s such an entertaining read. I think Land of Hope is just the sort of textbook that would appeal to many homeschoolers. It doesn’t promote a particular religious viewpoint, but it is respectful of religion and mentions some religious developments of historical significance. It takes an even-handed approach to political parties and competing political viewpoints. This is especially evident in Chapter 22: The World Since the Cold War where he discusses presidents from George H. W. Bush through Donald Trump, the War on Terror, and other politically-charged events in a relatively unbiased manner.

Student Workbook

land of hope studentThe student workbook, co-authored by Wilfred M. McClay and John D. McBride, is almost the same size as the textbook since it is loaded with so much material. For each chapter of the textbook, it has questions that might be used for writing assignments or discussions, some objective questions that students should answer independently, one or two primary source documents, and study questions for the document(s).

The questions emphasize key points that students should learn. Some of the questions are designed for students to simply fill in the blanks. Others require answers that might be a word, a sentence, or a paragraph. For instance, nine of the twenty-one questions for the first chapter are fill-in-the-blank questions. The other twelve questions are a mixture of some requiring brief answers, some that require complex answers, and some that consist of one or more follow-up questions. The latter two types of questions lend themselves to discussion, although students could write out their responses. Some questions ask students to present their opinions and provide reasons for those opinions. For example, p. 251 has a question that asks, "Was Bill Clinton's presidency a success? Why or why not?"

For some chapters, there are a large number of questions, and almost all of them could be used for discussion or written responses. One example is Chapter 19 on the Cold War which has 48 questions, only a few of which have students fill in the blanks. Teachers might need to be selective about which of these questions to have students answer since it could be very time consuming to try to answer all of them. Each chapter also has one to five objective questions where students will either number events in the proper order or match items in two columns.

The one or two source documents for each chapter are sometimes excerpts from the originals. Examples of some of the documents are The Mayflower Compact, Thomas Paine's Common Sense, The Federalist: 10 by James Madison, Abraham Lincoln's Speech on the Dred Scott Decision given on June 26,1857, The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, and Martin Luther King's speech, "I Have a Dream."

The documents are each followed by about six questions that can be used for either written assignments or discussion.

Near the end of the student workbook are twelve map exercises with detailed instruction and the maps on which students will write. Two additional maps of the United States are included along with a number of suggestions for assignments.

A section of Supplemental Materials at the end of the book includes a number of resources. Most important among them are The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution of the United States (including the Bill of Rights and all amendments), and a Table of U.S. Presidential Elections. Four special units in the teacher's guide show how to use these documents.

Teacher's Guide

land of hope teacherThe teacher's guide is, again, almost the same size as the textbook. It has a summary of each chapter and suggested answers for the questions with predictable answers. It includes the page numbers in the textbook where students might find what they need to answer questions. The summaries might be sufficient for a teacher to lead a discussion of the questions, but reading the entire chapter will certainly provide better preparation. Teachers (or parents) with a student working independently can oversee the course without having to read the entire textbook—but they might have to read some of it.

Four special units are scheduled between the chapters, although the teacher might use them (or not) as they please. The special units are Teaching the Declaration of Independence, Teaching the Constitution, Teaching the Bill of Rights, and Teaching the Two-Party System.

The teacher's guide does not have the complete textbook content, but it does have all of the questions. I could not find any mention of the map activities that are found in the student workbook. Teachers should note the chapter to which each map activity applies and be sure to assign them at the proper time. While teachers can function without their own student workbook, they will need to consult one for the map activities, and they should have their own copy of the textbook.

Hillsdale College's Free Course for the Book

Hillsdale College has created a free, online course for the textbook titled "The Great American Story: A Land of Hope." This online course with lectures helps transform the Land of Hope textbook into a complete course. The online course makes Land of Hope an excellent and practical choice for homeschoolers. However, it does not offer the breadth of questions and the primary source documents available with the teacher's guide and student workbook.


In the textbook’s epilogue on page 423, McClay says,

This book is offered as a contribution to the making of American citizens. As such, it is a patriotic endeavor as well as a scholarly one, and it never loses sight of what there is to celebrate and cherish in the American achievement. That doesn’t mean it is an uncritical celebration.

He goes on to say that he wants to see open and honest discussion of differing views, and that discussion needs to be based on love for our country, despite its faults. I don’t mind supporting the view expressed in Land of Hope. McClay is not blindly patriotic, but he values what we’ve got in comparison to most other countries. It seems to me that homeschoolers who want their children to learn to appreciate the blessing of living in the United States should find Land of Hope an excellent resource to accomplish that.


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Book of the Week: 'Land of Hope'

EDITOR’S NOTE: In this RealClearBooks series, we highlight recent nonfiction books from across the political spectrum. This week’s book is Wilfred McClay's' 'Land of Hope', just published by Encounter Books.


In Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story, Wilfred M. McClay has produced an inspiring exploration of America’s past that is out of step with the fashionably fractured narratives found in most U.S. history textbooks. More to the point, Land of Hope reads like a direct challenge to Howard Zinn’s wildly popular A People’s History of the United States. McClay's book does not whitewash our history, but presents an honest and fair accounting that recognizes the astonishing success of the American experiment. If any U.S. history survey in recent memory has a chance to unseat Zinn in the classroom, it just might be McClay's delightfully written tome. 

Encounter Books


Naomi Schafer Riley, Wall Street Journal: If you’re old enough to remember the Soviet Union, you’ve probably wondered why so many young people today seem attracted to socialism. One influence is Howard Zinn, who published “A People’s History of the United States” in 1980, the year before the first millennials were born.

The book “continues to be assigned in countless college and high-school courses, but its commercial sales have remained strong as well,” the Chronicle of Higher Education reported in 2003, on the occasion of its millionth copy sold. It kept selling after Zinn died in 2010: The Zinn Education Program website now claims more than two million sales.

Historian Wilfred McClay aspires to be the antidote to Zinn, whom he accuses of “greatly oversimplifying the past and turning American history into a comic-book melodrama in which ‘the people’ are constantly being abused by ‘the rulers.’ ” Mr. McClay’s counterpoint, which comes out next week, is titled “Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story.”

He says he doesn’t mean his new book as “some saccharine whitewash of American history.” But he’s seen too many students drawn to Zinn because the standard textbooks are visionless and tedious. “Just as nature abhors a vacuum,” Mr. McClay says, “so a culture will find some kind of grand narrative of itself to feed upon, even a poisonous one.”

A lousy story is better than no story at all: “We historians have for years been supplying an account of the American past that is so unedifying and lacking in larger perspective that Zinn’s sweeping melodrama looks good by comparison. Zinn’s success is indicative of our failure. We have to do better.” Read the full article.

Wilfred McClay, FOX News: There is a strong tendency in modern American society to treat patriotism as a dangerous sentiment, a passion to be guarded against. But this is a serious misconception. To begin with, we should acknowledge that there is something natural about patriotism, as an expression of love for what is one’s own, gratitude for what one has been given, and reverence for the sources of one’s being.

These responses are instinctive; they’re grounded in our natures and the basic facts of our birth. Yet their power is no less for that, and they are denied only at great cost.

Another one of the deepest needs of the human soul is a sense of membership, of joy in what we have and hold in common with others. Much of the time, though, the way we Americans talk about ourselves takes us in the opposite direction.

We like to think of the individual person as something that exists prior to all social relations, capable of standing free and alone, able to choose the terms on which he or she makes common cause with others. Even our own battered but still-magnificent Constitution, with its systemic distrust of all concentration of power, assumes that we are fundamentally self-interested creatures. This does capture some part of the truth about us. But only a part.

For among our deepest longings is the desire to belong, and it is an illusion to believe that we can sustain a stable identity in isolation, living apart from the eyes and ears and words of others. Our nation’s particular triumphs, sacrifices, and sufferings — and our memories of those things — draw and hold us together, precisely because they are the sacrifices and sufferings, not of all humanity, but of us alone. In this view, there is no more profoundly American place than Arlington National Cemetery or the Civil War battlegrounds of Antietam and Shiloh. Read the full editorial.


Bruce P. Frohen, University Bookman:Land of Hope is no mere textbook. It makes available to general readers, as well as college and advanced high school students, a one-volume retelling of “the Great American Story” that is accurate and moving, enlightening and exciting. As McClay observes, stories are the means by which we “speak to the fullness of our humanity” and which we need “to orient ourselves in the world.” And so this book eschews graphs, tables, and lists, instead telling its readers about powerful characters, life-changing events, and long-term developments in America from before its European settlement to the new millennium, all as part of a larger story of hope in ordered liberty and opportunity.

McClay begins with background on both the new and the old worlds, setting the stage, as it were, so that the reader may know the natural and human conditions of the land as well as the character of those who would settle and reshape it into the United States. Covering, in narrative form, the major events, trends, and personalities of our history, it focuses on the formation and development of the “habit of self-government” as developed in the colonies and challenged time and again up to the present day. Settlement, revolution, Civil War, and other great events are put in context, as are cultural and intellectual developments from transcendentalism to immigration, the industrial revolution to the rise of Progressivism.

McClay is engaged in no quixotic attempt to unmake or ignore prevailing theories of American political and social development. Instead, he retells the stories of western expansion, of Indian wars and the institutionalization of slavery, of civil rights struggles, the Depression, and the Cold War in a manner that is fair and even generous to all concerned. (One might quibble that McClay is rather too generous to the tyrant Henry VIII and rather too harsh toward conservative stalwart and failed presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, but overall the tone is just right.) There is no score-settling here, no attempt to put forth any grand ideological vision from either the left or the right. Instead, McClay works to help make citizens in the important sense that to be a member of our self-governing society requires understanding its culture, its good as well as its bad actions, and how they made us what we are as a people. Read the full review.

Howard L. Muncy, Public Discourse: Most Americans will learn only one account of their country’s history during their formative years. It is anyone’s guess which account that may be, but its impact on the general public will be greater than we might want to admit.

In his latest work, Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story, University of Oklahoma history professor Wilfred McClay offers a new survey of American history. When I was asked to review it, I put myself on guard. I was skeptical that I would find a new and “fair” American history text. Instead, I expected to find yet another work with a political angle, whether sharp or hidden.

Experience has taught me that bias more often enters history textbooks through what their authors omit from the standard account, rather than through any new topics they might add. So, I immediately turned to the chapters that would be most vulnerable to revision.

What I encountered was a rich account of American history that had me rethinking historical events from new perspectives. My skepticism soon gave way to curiosity. As I began to race through the pages, I felt that I was learning much of the material for the first time. Read the full review.


RealClearBooks: Americans on the left and right seem to have their own versions of our history. How do we bridge that gap?

McClay: This is going to be a great challenge. But part of it will involve clearing our minds of cant and illusion. In this respect, I think that a certain kind of pop postmodernism has done us a great disservice in undermining the idea that there can be truth in history, preferring the lazy and self-serving idea that “narrative is all,” and your narrative and my narrative are equally good, since they are “ours” and are therefore incontestable. But truth is the basis of our common world. We cannot have a common world unless we can agree on its contours. So this “my narrative” business cannot be sustained.

That said, as I insist in Land of Hope, history itself is a narrative, and is best related and studied as a story, one whose contours we agree about. And some part of that involves agreeing not only about the facts of American history but about its larger trajectory. History can tell us a lot about that, although history cannot predict the future, and always stumbles when it tries. But as countless writers have observed, what most closely binds a people is the remembrance of its past, and of those who have sacrificed to make the future possible. One of the most deplorable aspects of the present environment has been its tendency to condescend to the past, a tendency that has even found expression in the wholesale vandalism of the past. Edmund Burke once observed that “people will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors.” When we lose the past, we also lose the future. Read the full interview. 


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