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Bonds of Affection

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

Matthew S. Holland
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 336
  • Book Info
    Bonds of Affection
    Book Description:

    Notions of Christian love, or charity, strongly shaped the political thought of John Winthrop, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln as each presided over a foundational moment in the development of American democracy. Matthew Holland examines how each figure interpreted and appropriated charity, revealing both the problems and possibilities of making it a political ideal. Holland first looks at early American literature and seminal speeches by Winthrop to show how the Puritan theology of this famed 17th century governor of the Massachusetts Colony (he who first envisioned America as a "City upon a Hill") galvanized an impressive sense of self-rule and a community of care in the early republic, even as its harsher aspects made something like Jefferson's Enlightenment faith in liberal democracy a welcome development . Holland then shows that between Jefferson's early rough draft of the Declaration of Independence and his First Inaugural Jefferson came to see some notion of charity as a necessary complement to modern political liberty. However, Holland argues, it was Lincoln and his ingenious blend of Puritan and democratic insights who best fulfilled the promise of this nation's "bonds of affection." With his recognition of the imperfections of both North and South, his humility in the face of God's judgment on the Civil War, and his insistence on "charity for all," including the defeated Confederacy, Lincoln personified the possibilities of religious love turned civic virtue. Weaving a rich tapestry of insights from political science and literature and American religious history and political theory, Bonds of Affection is a major contribution to the study of American political identity. Matthew Holland makes plain that civic charity, while commonly rejected as irrelevant or even harmful to political engagement, has been integral to our national character. The book includes the full texts of Winthrop's speech "A Model of Christian Charity"; Jefferson's rough draft of the Declaration and his First Inaugural; and Lincoln's Second Inaugural.

    eISBN: 978-1-58901-277-6
    Subjects: Religion, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Prologue: “Bonds of Affection”—Three Founding Moments
    (pp. 1-18)

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

    We must...

  5. PART ONE Winthrop and America’s Point of Departure

    • Hawthorne’s Suggestion
      (pp. 21-26)

      It is now quaint to presume, as Tocqueville did in the 1830s, that there is “not one opinion, one habit, one law” in this country that does not tie back to our Puritan past. Still, few writers of our history question Puritan New England’s decisive influence on American politics and culture. Even fewer dispute Cotton Mather’s early claim that John Winthrop was the “Father of New England.” For good reason, then, many distinguished observers of American politics continue to consider John Winthrop an admirable figure of founding importance, if not the “first great American.”¹ An attorney and respected man of...

    • CHAPTER 1 A Model of Christian Charity
      (pp. 27-55)

      In the spring of 1630, Christian love gave fertile seed to America’s political heritage. The key moment came in a religious service for members of the Massachusetts Bay Company sailing to New England on board the Arbella. Addressing those gathered not as their minister but as their recently elected governor, John Winthrop delivered a rigorously argued and emotionally stirring vision of agape as the foundational ideal of the society these brave settlers were setting out to create.¹ His remarks stand as America’s first great speech. No adequate reflection on charity as a national civic virtue can ignore this now classic...

    • CHAPTER 2 Two Cities upon a Hill
      (pp. 56-90)

      Winthrop begins the last section of his “Model” speech by making “some application” of the previous material to present circumstances (¶ 37). He has four things in mind: a discussion of (1) the “persons” involved, (2) the “work” they are facing, (3) the “end” of that work, and (4) the “means” for accomplishing such. In this final section, the more attractive elements of Winthrop’s model of caritas emerge with such rhetorical force that we still quote the speech today. At the same time, this section reveals the grounds for certain Puritan practices to which none of us would wish to...

  6. PART TWO Jefferson and the Founding

    • 1776—The Other Declaration
      (pp. 93-96)

      In May of 1776, George Mason drafted the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which the Virginia Convention of Delegates adopted unanimously the very next month with only a few changes. The impact of this document was immediate and widespread. Thomas Jefferson was almost certainly guided by a draft of it as he sat in Philadelphia composing the Declaration of Independence. Nine other colonies followed Virginia’s lead and affixed similar statements to their new constitutions or passed comparable statutes. A few more years down the road, when drafting the Bill of Rights for the U.S. Constitution, James Madison would look to this...

    • CHAPTER 3 A Model of Natural Liberty
      (pp. 97-127)

      Very late in life, Thomas Jefferson claimed that the Declaration of Independence was not “copied from any particular and previous writing.” However, a side-by-side comparison of Jefferson’s “original Rough draught” and George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights reveals a conspicuous likeness in the language and logic of these two texts.¹

      Just after Jefferson arrived in Philadelphia to attend the Continental Congress, the “Committee Draft” of Mason’s text was printed in three different local papers just as Jefferson was tasked to draft the Declaration, and Mason, well-reputed “dean of the intellectual rebels” of revolutionary Virginia, was a key mentor to both...

    • CHAPTER 4 “To Close the Circle of Our Felicities”
      (pp. 128-158)

      Throughout his career Thomas Jefferson consistently held up the Declaration of Independence as the preeminent guide of American politics.¹ Conversely, his regard for the public and personal relevance of the New Testament, Christianity’s paramount guide, changed significantly over time. This change and its subsequent shaping of Jefferson’s most important and influential political speech, his First Inaugural, plays a critical role in leading Jefferson to make a light but formal emendation to the model of natural liberty that emerges from the Declaration of Independence. Without dramatic departure from his general commitment to a rights-based, democratic government of limited proportions, Jefferson’s first...

  7. PART THREE Lincoln and the Refounding of America

    • From Tom to Abe
      (pp. 161-168)

      In the election of 1860, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s support for Lincoln was tepid. His first inaugural left her cold. She found it godless. And his first eighteen months in office only brought her more disappointment—at times even fury—as she observed what appeared to be his general passivism and occasional retrograde conservatism on the issue of slavery. In the fall of 1862, however, she was heartened to hear talk of an Emancipation Proclamation and paid a visit to the White House in November to plead with the president to act. According to family tradition, Lincoln greeted her by remarking,...

    • CHAPTER 5 “Hail Fall of Fury! Reign of Reason, All Hail!”
      (pp. 169-199)

      Abraham Lincoln remains the best wordsmith who ever occupied the White House. Among the most quoted and lyrical presidential lines he ever composed are the last of his First Inaugural. Speaking to those who still “love the Union” even if wary of the direction they think he will take the country on the charged issue of slavery, he pleads,

      We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and...

    • CHAPTER 6 “This Nation, Under God”
      (pp. 200-218)

      The closing passage of Lincoln’s First Inaugural—“though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection”—affirms that as Lincoln begins his presidency, roughly two decades after delivering the Lyceum and Temperance Addresses, he remains as concerned as ever over the threat that “passion” poses to America’s constitutional order. In extolling the country’s “bonds of affection,” he also appears to be as concerned as ever about the unity and attachments between citizens this passion threatens. And, in appealing to the nation’s “better angels” and “mystic chords of memory,” he seems to again be engaged in a...

    • CHAPTER 7 A Model of Civic Charity
      (pp. 219-240)

      Original in length, style, and content, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural is without peer in presidential rhetoric—a point well-acknowledged on the left (Alfred Kazin: “the most remarkable inaugural address in our history—the only one that has ever reflected literary genius”) and the right (George Will: the “only” presidential inaugural that “merits a place in the nation’s literature”). Especially when read in tandem with the Gettysburg Address, the speech stands as a singularly profound embodiment of America’s deepest moral impulses. A powerful force for forging national bonds of affection then and now, these remarks are the culminating statement of Lincoln’s unique...

  8. CONCLUSION: Bonds of Freedom
    (pp. 241-260)

    The current identity of any political regime is tied to its founding. The notion that cultural recollection of such beginnings never fails to shape a contemporary society’s moral vision, sense of purpose, and capacity to act is an insight as old as Plato. Thus, it still matters today that a number of key moments in the making of America were fashioned by the memorable words and deeds of political figures of uncommon intellect and skill who took New Testament teachings on love seriously, both personally and publicly.

    We tend to remember the first of these figures, John Winthrop, only in...

  9. APPENDIX A John Winthrop’s “A Model of Christian Charity” Speech
    (pp. 261-276)
  10. APPENDIX B Thomas Jefferson’s “original Rough draught” of the Declaration of Independence
    (pp. 277-282)
  11. APPENDIX C Thomas Jefferson’s First Inaugural March 4, 1801
    (pp. 283-288)
  12. APPENDIX D Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural March 4, 1865
    (pp. 289-290)
    (pp. 291-308)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 309-321)