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The Puritan Origins of American Patriotism

The Puritan Origins of American Patriotism

Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 448
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  • Book Info
    The Puritan Origins of American Patriotism
    Book Description:

    In this absorbing book, George McKenna ranges across the entire panorama of American history to track the development of American patriotism. That patriotism-shaped by Reformation Protestantism and imbued with the American Puritan belief in a providential "errand"-has evolved over 350 years and influenced American political culture in both positive and negative ways, McKenna shows. The germ of the patriotism, an activist theology that stressed collective rather than individual salvation, began in the late 1630s in New England and traveled across the continent, eventually becoming a national phenomenon. Today, American patriotism still reflects its origins in the seventeenth century.

    By encouraging cohesion in a nation of diverse peoples and inspiring social reform, American patriotism has sometimes been a force for good. But the book also uncovers a darker side of the nation's patriotism-a prejudice against the South in the nineteenth century, for example, and a tendency toward nativism and anti-Catholicism. Ironically, a great reversal has occurred, and today the most fervent believers in the Puritan narrative are the former "outsiders"-Catholics and Southerners. McKenna offers an interesting new perspective on patriotism's role throughout American history, and he concludes with trenchant thoughts on its role in the post-9/11 era.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13767-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction THE PURITAN LEGACY
    (pp. 1-15)

    NO SINGLE POLITICAL ACT is as difficult or perilous as the founding of a new commonwealth. To found is to begin something new, ares publica,a “public thing.” The foundation has to be laid carefully if this new thing is to break free from the burden of the past without plunging into darkness and disorder. History is littered with the ruins of failed republics, torn to pieces by violence and civil war or forcibly absorbed into more powerful neighboring states. What makes new commonwealths particularly vulnerable to destruction is that their people have not yet formed the common habits...

  5. CHAPTER 1 The Puritan Narrative
    (pp. 16-43)

    THE STORY IS FAMILIAR to students of seventeenth-century Puritanism in New England, but it never loses its poignancy: a frail, middle-aged woman faces an official inquisition by a pack of angry men, including the governor and deputy governor. The governor serves at once as judge and prosecutor. Witnesses, several clergymen gathered from throughout the commonwealth, are prepared to testify against her. But when she is brought before them she is unbowed and unintimidated. At the very outset she knocks them off balance by demanding to know the charges against her and insisting that all the witnesses against her be put...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Revolutionary Puritanism
    (pp. 44-78)

    WHEN THE POLITICAL SCIENTIST Barry Alan Shain started his research on eighteenth-century politics in America, he expected to find a communal past based upon “powerful secular republican” norms derived from classical or Renaissance writings. After all, the eighteenth century, the Age of Reason, was bursting with new ideas, new ways of interpreting old ideas—even new ways of acting: Shain’s reading of secondary sources had led him to believe that the exhilarating experience of debate in the townships of eighteenth-century America had itself generated a new political ethos.

    After completing his research, Shain concluded that his initial impressions were half...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Romantic Puritanism
    (pp. 79-127)

    IN THE TWO GENERATIONS FOLLOWING the American Revolution, evangelical Protestants launched a crusade to bring salvation to the rest of the nation. From the last years of the eighteenth century to roughly 1840, they conducted revivals, proclaimed days of fast and thanksgiving, founded new schools, colleges, and Christian-oriented reform movements.¹ A large swath of upstate New York, from Troy to buffalo, was the scene of so many fiery revivals between 1820 and 1840 that it became known as the “burnedover district.” By the mid-1850s, evangelical movements would comprise two-thirds of the Protestant ministers and church members in the United States,...

  8. CHAPTER 4 The Holy War
    (pp. 128-163)

    “SLAVERY,” WROTE HENRY ADAMS IN 1907, “drove the whole Puritan community back on its Puritanism.” He was reflecting on his early teenage years in the 1850s, the time when he first tried to picture the forces arrayed against each other in America. “The Slave power took the place of Stuart kings and Roman popes” in his imagination, while on the other side the antislavery politicians became the new Puritan liberators, bravely battling tyranny and obscurantism. Growing up in Boston as a scion of a revolutionary family but somewhat adrift in the nineteenth century, Adams found that this image of an...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Puritans in the Gilded Age
    (pp. 164-206)

    THE NAME OF HORACE BUSHNELL (1802–76) was so well known in late nineteenth-century America that when residents of Hartford, Connecticut, his hometown, visited other cities they were often greeted with the question, “Did you know Horace Bushnell?” The pastor of Hartford’s Congregational North Church from 1833 to 1859, Bushnell was a towering figure in mainline Protestantism at a time when it played a central role in shaping American culture. Yet today, outside of specialists in American religious history, hardly anybody would recognize his name. This is not just because of the decline of good history teaching in our schools...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Puritanism Debunked—and Revived
    (pp. 207-258)

    ALTHOUGH THE WORDbunkwas coined before the 1920s, it came into common usage then, one of the many irreverent slang words that became popular among young people. Like its slang synonyms, “baloney,” “banana oil,” “hokum,” and “horsefeathers,” it meant pretentious nonsense, humbug, empty claptrap. To “debunk” something, then, was to expose its hollowness and emptiness, to cut it down to size.¹ Something like that happened to Puritanism in the 1920s, when, as Sydney Ahlstrom observes, “the Puritan heritage lost its hold on the leaders of public life.”²

    It was probably inevitable. In the last chapter we saw that during...

  11. CHAPTER 7 America Blessed and Judged: THE FIFTIES AND SIXTIES
    (pp. 259-309)

    FROM A SKELETAL ARMY IN 1940 hurriedly training raw recruits using broomsticks for rifles and drainspouts for cannon, the American army in 1945 consisted of sixty-nine superbly equipped infantry divisions. Its navy was superior to the combined fleets of every other country, and its air force possessed more striking power than any in the world. There were American bases everywhere in Western Europe and in the waters of the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Mediterranean, rimming the entire Eurasian continent. As the columnist George Will noted, “America was more supreme than Great Britain after Waterloo, than the France of Louis...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Intermezzo
    (pp. 310-349)

    CONSERVATIVES STILL SAVOR THE REMARK ATTRIBUTED TO THE late Pauline Kael, film critic for theNew Yorker,after President Richard Nixon’s forty-nine-state victory over Senator George McGovern in the presidential election of 1972: “How can that be? No one I know voted for Nixon.” They quote it on every occasion when it appears that liberals have underestimated the popularity of a conservative candidate, and they attribute it to the insularity of liberal circles. “The Kael bubble,” they call it.

    Yet there were good reasons for Kael to be surprised. Nixon was exceedingly unpopular among even moderately left-leaning Americans of three...

  13. CHAPTER 9 America After 9/11
    (pp. 350-374)

    SEPTEMBER 11, 2001, AN EARLY FALL DAY IN MANHATTAN, felt the way New Yorkers want it to feel at that time of year. Just a few days earlier it had been muggy and uncomfortable, more August than September, but now the air was mountain-dry. And the sky—it was not just blue, it was a light, crystalline blue, cheerful and invigorating. It was 8:45 A.M., and people were starting their day. Children had just arrived at school, men and women were pouring out of buses and subways on their way to work; some were already there, sipping coffee, checking e-mail,...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 375-414)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 415-431)