Archive for the ‘ The Historical Muse ’ Category

American Character: John Winthrop

John Winthrop, leader of the Puritan migration to Massachusetts, and that colony’s first governor, sometimes gets a bum rap from historians. Even one of my favorite historians, Paul Johnson, considers him too severe. A good corrective on that, however, is a fairly recent biography by Francis Bremer, John Winthrop: America’s Forgotten Founding Father. Bremer shows rather conclusively, I think, that Winthrop was a man of great moderation fueled by his Christian faith.

Winthrop is known, if at all, primarily for the sermon he preached on his ship coming over to the New World. In that sermon, called “A Model of Christian Charity,” he instructs:

For we must consider that we shall be as a city on a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God.

Winthrop understood that God expects people to live up to the standards He has set. If we fail to do so, He will not help us. Christians need to maintain a consistent testimony before the watching world. If we don’t, we besmirch the reputation of the One who saved us.

During Winthrop’s first winter in Massachusetts, sickness overcame the new settlers. Many died; others were starving. Since he was one of the wealthiest of the settlers, he gave freely out of his plenty to help those who were less fortunate. One of the first settlers to die was his own son.

One might think that such an experience would sour a man on the mission. Not Winthrop. When the spring came, he wrote to his wife back in England about all the sorrows and tribulations, but stated clearly,

Yet for all these things (I praise my God) I am not discouraged, nor do I cause to repent, or despair of those good days here, which will make amends for all.

This is called faith. It is the testimony of John Winthrop.

Principle: Sowing & Reaping (Part III)

I’ve spent two days talking about how important it is to sow Biblical principles in our society. Yesterday, I noted that no matter how well we sow, there will always be those who refuse to accept God’s truths. Sowing the right seeds will not automatically result in reaping the right harvest. The soil/heart in which they are sown must receive them. Yet there is the promise from God that sowing the right seeds generally will bring a good harvest.

In early America, many Biblical seeds were sown. That’s not to say that everything was Biblical or that everyone was Christian, but a consensus did exist in that society, a consensus that accepted the Biblical framework of thinking.

Critics will point to problems such as slavery to try to question this assertion, but all I’m saying is that people generally agreed on the Biblical basis for understanding how society should function. This agreement led to some rather positive developments, not the least of which was our federal republic form of government. Marriage was a respected institution, established by God. Moral values were based on Biblical concepts. Yes, people violated them, but the violations were noted and disapproved.

About the middle of the nineteenth century, with the ascendance of Darwinian thought, the seeds that were being sown began to change. Today, the elites of society—in government, the media, and education—have pretty much accepted the new consensus: man is not a special being made in the image of God.

These new seeds have led to disastrous changes: abortion is now commonplace, the push is on for same-sex marriage, we have a mania for saving “Mother Earth” (a pagan idea), and the government is moving ever more relentlessly toward socialist control of every aspect of our lives. We have adopted the idea that our Constitution is a “living document” that can be altered by any judge with a desire to place his or her stamp on the future. The state now controls most education. We will learn whatever the state deems appropriate.

Psalms 11:3 declares:

If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?

I will comment on that in the next post.

American Character: Edward Winslow

There probably aren’t too many Americans who know the name Edward Winslow. He was one of the Pilgrims, a trusted friend and helper for William Bradford for many years. As with Bradford, Winslow’s Christian faith led him to depart England for Holland, and then on to the New World.

Winslow suffered in the same way Bradford did at first in the new colony of Plymouth. The first winter was severe, and half the company died. One of those was Winslow’s wife, Elizabeth. Yet he continued to believe that God had called him to this venture.

Winslow became the chief diplomat for the Pilgrims with their Indian neighbors. Chief Massasoit had a special regard for Winslow because of one particular episode.

Massasoit was dying, probably from typhus. Plymouth sent Winslow to see what could be done to help. Upon arriving at the Indian village, Winslow examined Massasoit’s tongue and saw that it was “exceedingly furred” and so swollen that the chief could eat nothing. Winslow was able to get some fruit preserves into the chief, then scraped the “corruption” from his mouth and tongue.

Winslow’s constant attention to Massasoit’s needs, which included shooting and cooking a duck for him, as well as offering what medicines he could, led to the chief’s recovery when everyone thought he was going to die. Massasoit then asked if Winslow would do the same for others in the tribe suffering the same sickness. Winslow dutifully scraped the mouths of everyone who was sick, something he admitted was “much offensive to me, not being accustomed with such poisonous savors.” But his Christian faith, and the desire to maintain good relations with the natives, inspired him to complete the task. As Nathaniel Philbrick, author of Mayflower,  comments, “This was a form of diplomacy that went far beyond the usual exchange of pleasantries and gifts.”

Winslow also performed diplomatic missions for the colony with the English government. On one such trip back to his native land, he decided to stay and help with the Parliament’s war against Charles I. He never returned to Plymouth, but was instead named a commissioner for a British naval effort against the Spanish. He died in 1655 of yellow fever off the coast of Jamaica. Philbrick concludes,

Winslow undoubtedly looked to his final decade in England as his shining hour as a diplomat, but his most significant contribution to British and American history had actually occurred more than thirty years earlier when he became the Englishman Massasoit trusted above all others.

Edward Winslow’s life and character should not be shuttled to the back pages of American history. His contribution to the founding of the New World should be known by every American.

Remembrance Day

I chose the title for today’s post on purpose. We are so used to seeing “Memorial Day” that we probably don’t stop and think about what the word means. Memorial is based on other words—memory and remember. As a nation, we need to maintain a collective memory. We need to consciously remember what has gone before us. As a historian, I can say with some authority that we are a nation that is losing its memory. Knowledge of American principles and the sacrifices of those who have preceded us is fading. That’s why it’s so important to continue to recognize days like today.

Let’s remind ourselves—in the midst of cookouts, trips to Home Depot, or whatever—that we do owe a lot to those who fought and died, as well as to those who fought and survived. Let’s maintain the memories; let’s collectively remember.

Jack Kemp

Champion of Supply-Side Economics
Republican Visionary

Jack Kemp—former pro football quarterback, congressman, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, vice-presidential candidate in the 1996 election—died yesterday of cancer.

 If anyone was a face for the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s—besides Ronald Reagan, of course—it was Congressman Kemp. Champion of the concept of supply-side economics, which posited that if you reduce tax rates you increase incentive, productivity, and revenues simultaneously, Kemp worked tirelessly and joyfully for America’s economic salvation. He was also solid on what conservatives like to call the “social issues” such as abortion.

Kemp attempted to wrest the Republican nomination from the heir-apparent in 1988, George H.W. Bush, but fell short. He was my candidate that year. I truly believed he had the vision and the policies that were most likely to continue what Reagan had begun. I still believe that.

Although he was no longer serving in government, he remained active in the world of ideas, prodding his Republican party, and the American people in general, toward genuine prosperity based on sound principles. A voice like his will always be missed.

While I cannot speak with certainty with respect to his relationship with God, I have reason to hope that today he is with his Savior.

American Character: William Bradford

Pilgrim Governor William Bradford

He was only in his twenties when the awesome responsibility of governing a community was thrust upon him. Then, for 35 years of the next 40, he continued to lead that community, being reelected annually. That must mean he was doing something right.

His name was William Bradford, governor of the Pilgrim colony of Plymouth. He arrived on the Mayflower in 1620 along with a band of his fellow believers. In England, they were called Separatists because they didn’t want to belong to the state-sponsored church. For that stance, they were persecuted.

America was the opportunity to set up a colony and be able to do things the way they thought God commanded. Bradford, although young, led with increasing confidence.

He negotiated a treaty with his nearest neighbor, Chief Massasoit. That treaty lasted for more than 50 years, beyond the deaths of the two who fashioned it. He changed the farming system from a collectivist method to private enterprise. Immediately, initiative and industry thrived. As he later wrote about this change:

The failure of this experiment of communal living, which was tried for several years, and by good and honest men, proves the emptiness of the theory of Plato and other ancients—that the taking away of private property, and the possession of it in community . . . . would make a state happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. . . .

Let none argue that this is due to human failing, rather than to this communistic plan of life in itself. I answer, seeing that all men have this failing in them, that God in His wisdom saw that another course was fitter for them.

In William Bradford, we have an American example of honest and godly government.

American Character: Pocahontas

To some, she is the stuff of legend. Perhaps that’s why Disney felt comfortable making a film that is largely fantasy.

First, she was not an alluring young woman when she met Capt. John Smith; she was about ten years old. Fantasy is at work also in the image of John Smith here.

Pocahontas was fascinated with these English settlers. She spent time at the fort playing with the young boys. Her father, Chief Powhatan, didn’t mind her visiting his enemies because she could then provide intelligence about them.

When Smith went back to England, she was informed that he had died. Her link to the settlers was broken, and she stayed away for a few years.

A later Jamestown governor got the bright idea that the best way to get concessions from Chief Powhatan was to take something that he valued and then offer to trade. So he took Pocahontas. She was kidnapped by the settlers in order to force Powhatan’s hand.

Abduction of Pocahontas

Abduction of Pocahontas

Those plans were foiled when Powhatan refused to deal. A combination of Pocahontas’s interest in English culture and anger toward her father for his attitude led her to remain at Jamestown, where she was taught the Christian faith. She decided she wanted to be a Christian and was baptized.

This painting of the baptism of Pocahontas can be seen in the Capitol rotunda in Washington, DC. Yes, it also has a little fantasy in its depiction of the baptism. There were no Roman columns in the New World. Yet the fact is that Pocahontas did become a Christian. She even took what she considered to be a Christian name: Rebecca.

She also married one of the colonists: John Rolfe, a new settler who had recently lost his first wife. Their marriage was the beginning of a better time in the colony. It formed a bridge between the English and native cultures. Peace, however uneasy, resulted.

Pocahontas gave birth to a son, Thomas. The Virginia Company, which had sponsored the Jamestown settlement, knew a good public relations coup when they saw it. The Rolfe family went to England, where the company could show off the Indian princess who had become a Christian. They hoped this would bring in more investors.

Pocahontas liked England, and indications are that she wished to stay. Her Christian faith drew her closer to English culture. She even had her portrait painted while she was in England.

This portrait is probably the most famous of all depictions of Pocahontas, who was now also known as Lady Rebecca.

As they were awaiting departure for the return trip to Virginia, Pocahontas became ill. They had to take her off the ship. As she lay dying, she told her husband not to grieve; it was the lot of everyone to die. She exhibited a calm assurance of eternal life.

Pocahontas–inquisitive child, peacemaker between cultures, voluntary convert to the Christian faith. In her twenty short years, she made an impact on American history, and her real story is much more significant than the stuff of legend.