The City in Political Peril, 2017

For the blog post next Friday (4/21), students will rewrite ONE of the following poems for a contemporary audience: William Blake’s “London,” William Wordsworth’s “London, 1802,” or Percy Shelley’s “England in 1819.”  The goal of this mini creative writing assignment is to mirror or recreate the poem’s formal elements as much as the content, but written for the modern world and its modern readers (your peers as well as the wider online audience).  However, you should also remember that all parodies and imitations pay homage (in a negative or positive way) to an earlier historical and literary moment, and your work should convey the sense of its engagement with another time and place.

Title your recreated poem according to a city or town you’re familiar with, followed by “2017.”  Be daring, creative, and, of course, politically provocative!!!

Please categorize your post under “The French Revolution” and don’t forget to create specific and relevant tags.  The post is due by Friday (4/21) 1pm, but students have the option to revise it until 6pm that day.  And please sign your posts so that your TA, Hannah, and I know who wrote what.  Warning: blank or filler “placeholder” posts submitted after the deadline will not receive a grade!


A City upon Intolerance and Genocide

First and foremost, John Winthrop’s “City upon a Hill” absolutely does not carry the same context if it was used in speech today, and we can be thankful for this. I for one am certainly glad that we have overall improved our approach on human ethics to ascend beyond such an abysmal level of religious intolerance, gender inequality, and an acceptance of genocide.  The references to this model state in modern times refer to a sociopolitical transformed term. Rather than the primary focus of religion, “City upon a Hill” has become a model to represent democracy and a right to freedom for countries across the world. The reference to the term appeals to the general ignorance of the American public, where a “City upon a Hill” can be imagined as glorious and almighty, but was originally a fanatic’s fantasy of religious superiority and human inequality.


Anne Hutchinson, who lived during Winthrop’s time, believed that it was unnecessary to strictly adhere to the guidelines of the Christian institution as she encouraged looking to one’s own intuition to find salvation, as God lived inward amongst the souls of each and other, rather than through every day practice. In “The Humble Request” we learn how devout and intolerant the Puritans could be, “The Puritans exalted preaching; they taxed themselves voluntarily to secure additional preaching on market days by evangelical clergymen, who were called lecturers.” She was met with fierce opposition from the colony’s ministers, and was directly accused by John Winthrop of troubling the peace of the churches. Winthrop described her as a demonic extremist in his journals,  “hell-spawned agent of destructive anarchy”. Remaining confident with the belief that God remained within her, she countered Winthrop’s accusations intelligently over days of trial, but she would cement her fate as her character showed eminently whilst addressing the court in an impassioned outcry, “You have no power over my body, neither can you do me any harm…Therefore take heed how you proceed against me—for I know that, for this you go about to do to me, God will ruin you and your posterity and this whole state.” Hutchinson was shattering Christian ideals while paving the way for religious interpretation and women’s representation alike. Ultimately she and her family were banished from the Massachusetts “City upon a Hill”, to New Netherlands and were later murdered in a Native American raid (likely a retaliation of colonist aggression in the “Kiefts War”). New Netherlands (New York and New Jersey today) was a colony of considerable diversity, and its inhabitants carried a significant amount of war experience from Europe. The most gruesome interactions between Natives and colonists in all of U.S. history probably occurred in this region between the Dutch and Algonquian peoples. “(Native) Infants were torn from their mother’s breasts, and hacked to pieces in the presence of their parents, and pieces thrown into the fire and in the water, and other sucklings, being bound to small boards, were cut, stuck, and pierced, and miserably massacred in a manner to move a heart of stone. Some were thrown into the river, and when the fathers and mothers endeavored to save them, the soldiers would not let them come on land but made both parents and children drown…”. New Netherlands was a religiously tolerant society however, and the blood-rage in many of their souls was a result of the blindness of conquest, as well as the influence of atrocities that the Massachusetts colony had committed previously. Their overall view of the Natives never fully reached the dreadful dehumanizing extent of pure genocidal intent; that the religion-imbued fanatics located on John Winthrop’s “City upon a Hill” were consumed by.

The most gruesome interactions between Natives and colonists in all of U.S. history probably occurred in this region between the Dutch and Algonquian peoples. “(Native) Infants were torn from their mother’s breasts, and hacked to pieces in the presence of their parents, and pieces thrown into the fire and in the water, and other sucklings, being bound to small boards, were cut, stuck, and pierced, and miserably massacred in a manner to move a heart of stone. Some were thrown into the river, and when the fathers and mothers endeavored to save them, the soldiers would not let them come on land but made both parents and children drown…”. New Netherlands was a religiously tolerant society however, and the blood-rage in many of their souls was a result of the blindness of conquest, as well as the influence of atrocities that the Massachusetts colony had committed previously. Their overall view of the Natives never fully reached the dreadful dehumanizing extent of pure genocidal intent; that the religion-imbued fanatics located on John Winthrop’s “City upon a Hill” were consumed by.

Of all the savage bloodshed between the natives and the colonists before the revolution, some of the most horrific occurrences took place by the so-called “City upon a Hill”. In perhaps the most inhumane incident of all colonist and native exchanges, a Pequot fort containing 500 men, women, and children, was encircled by troops and incinerated. Only a handful managed to escape. The captain of the forces John Mason insisted that the attack was an act of God who “laughed his Enemies and the Enemies of his People to scorn making [the Pequot fort] as a fiery Oven.” Even the Narragansett and Mohegan, the Native American allies of the English forces and also fierce enemies of the Pequot, were horrified by the brutal disregard for ethics. The colonists celebrated their victory, and affirmed their religious fanaticism, declaring the Pequot extinct, and explained their victory once again as an act of God: “Let the whole Earth be filled with his glory! Thus the lord was pleased to smite our Enemies in the hinder Parts, and to give us their Land for an Inheritance.”


The Mystic Massacre during the Pequot War. Hundreds of men, women, and children were burned alive mercilessly. 

When John Winthrop landed alongside Arbella and its fleet, he was not focused on the presence of later dictators, globalization and trade, but rather, the establishment of Christian ideals on a clean slate. Invigorated by the lack of constraints and a dark history, he sought to create a society greater than its predecessors, “Secondly that he might haue the more occasion to manifest the work of his Spirit: first upon the wicked in [Page 34] moderating and restraining them: soe that the riche and mighty should not eate upp the poore nor the poore and dispised rise upp against and shake off theire yoake.” Winthrop wanted his city to be the most ideal place for a Christian, and one that would affect the lives of all who examined their lives. As centuries passed, and the fallacy of religion continued to be exposed, like the unraveling of the antiquated geocentric model; our concerns shifted to immediate concerns and threats. Milton writes in Areopagitica, what is far more relevant to today’s political agendas. Whereas, Winthrop focused solely on the institution of religion, Milton brings a radical concept of liberty that attempts to reverse the censorship. “While things are yet not constituted in Religion, that freedom of writing should berestrain’d by a discipline imitated from the Prelats, and learnt by them from the Inquisition to shut us up all again into the brest of a licencer, must needs give cause of doubt and discouragement to all learned and religious men. Who cannot but discern the finenes of this politic drift, and who are the contrivers; that while Bishops were to be baited down, then all Presses might be open; it was the peoples birthright and priviledge in time of Parlament, it was the breaking forth of light.” Milton references classical works in a well-thought prose that speaks to liberty and denounces the evil of tyranny.


Ronald Reagan faced a seemingly imminent but dwindling threat during the Cold War, and mentioned a “Shining City upon a Hill” to bring the American people together under an exaggeration of success. His focus was not establishing Christian ideals, but rather uniting the dreams and hopes of a nation to unite against a common foe. Barack Obama brings up the “City upon a Hill” at U. Mass, and mentions the imperfection of the dream over centuries of human inequality, but ultimately concludes that America has made significant advancements in civil rights, while pushing the boundaries of opportunity. He expressed contentment over the transformation and abundance of diversity in a city which carried a history of discrimination, “I see students that have come here from over 100 different countries, believing like those first settlers that they too could find a home in this City on a Hill – that they too could find success in this unlikeliest of places.” Obama mentions the “City upon a Hill” in a social manner, as well as Reagan, who also puts importance on the political implications. John Winthrop envisioned a wholly righteous and ideal Christian place for all of the world to admire, and while Obama and Reagan also speak to inspire the hopes and dreams of not just Americans, but  people across the world, their focus is far more centered on the movement of civil rights and based on maintaining political structure.


-Thomas Pham

Getting the gist of the phrase “city upon a hill”

If we trace the origins of the phrase “city upon a hill” which was taken from Matthew chapter 5 of the Bible, the connotations are made pretty evident. Jesus, the speaker, is encouraging Christians to becoming a shining example of holiness; to practice all of the admirable qualities the “blessed” have (Matthew 5:3-11). Just as a city upon a hill cannot hide, Jesus asks that Christians therefore “in the same way, let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). This request isn’t meant to be one that asks Christians to boast about their good works, in fact in the very next chapter of Matthew, Jesus admonishes: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1). The city upon a hill, in this sense, is then meant to serve as a “beacon”, and a Christian is not necessarily meant to be a flashy, pompadour, and self-righteous individual, but one that is a role model for goodness and holiness. Obviously we can’t ignore the denotative qualities of the phase “city upon a hill”. A city is a group of individuals coming under one nation; similarly, Christians recognize themselves as the people of God, and so there is a sense of nationality amongst the group. Of course, I believe that this second connotation that we may have derived from the phrase takes second chair. I say this primarily because how the metaphor was wedged in between two other metaphors (the salt and light, the candle and bowl) that were all essentially conveying the same message. This message, as we know, was summarized in Matthew 5:16.

After acknowledging that “city upon a hill” has two meanings, the latter not so important, it’s interesting that Winthrop chose to use the phrase. This isn’t to say that John Winthrop was hijacking the phrase and using it out context, only that he wasn’t using the primary metaphor. If we can recall, John Winthrop in his sermon, A Model of Christian Charity, uses “city upon a hill” to describe the colony being established in America. He asks his followers to obey certain cardinal values, for example “Justice and Mercy” (34), and treat others the way you want to be treated (35). The motive behind this sermon, is to encourage the people to work together, so that England can see that they are doing just fine on their own: “For wee must consider that wee shall be as a citty upon a hill. The eies of all people are upon” (47). Winthrop’s sermon is optimistic, it encourages the people that they too can be a beacon of hope to other pilgrims, provided that they follow a certain set of ideals and more importantly, get along with each other (which ties in the nationality part).

In regards to modern usage of the phrase, if we can successfully separate the fact that John Winthrop was a fervent Christian, knowingly using the phrase with religious connotations, but moreover to encourage a pride of nationality, we can see that modern usage doesn’t do justice to Winthrop’s meaning and definitely not Jesus’. Winthrop, like Jesus was arguing for sense of morality, a goodness that could bring the people together and serve as a beacon, Regan on the other hand, focuses on the city aspect of the phrase. He remarks that we’re different, coming together under the same nation, but that we are a melting pot who is open to everyone. In the speech, he makes it clear that America is a beacon of freedom and that is the only attribute, not that it’s just or that its good or that it’s moral, as Jesus and Winthrop alluded to. Similarly, Obama’s farewell speech took on the same verbiage that America was a beacon of freedom, a melting pot, etc. which changes the original meaning significantly, but not exceptionally. Obviously secular people may disagree, arguing that they’re essentially equal to each other, but as a Christian myself I can see the ways the Word of God has been augmented to fulfill a separate agenda, in the case of Regan and Obama, almost completely. Of course, there are parallels, the ones I have aforementioned, and so I can definitely see the similarities though they are broad.


-Sara Nuila-Chae

City upon a Hill: Religious vs. Political

In Winthrop’s time, the US was yet to be established. At that time the country could’ve been molded into anything in anyway. Whether a democracy, monarchy or dictatorship, this country and how it was going to be developed was going to put an impact around the world. John Winthrop refers to “City upon a Hill” religiously because he sees the new world as an opportunity to create a foundation of his Puritan faith and to spread it across. Religiously “City upon a Hill” infers to a community that follows their faith and ideals of God. Years later the phrase is reformed to politically symbolize the free nation filled with colored opportunities for its citizens.

The phrase holds the same meaning as it did in Winthrop’s time, because in the 21st century, every day we witness revolutionary ideas in technology, society, religion, etc. Although “the shining city” isn’t completely perfect and the concept of a free nation may be at risk in light of recent political happenings, we have come so far from what Winthrop would’ve have imagined as a Puritan. From Winthrop to Reagan to Obama, every time this phrase is used the world has advanced greatly since the last time it was used, becoming a “city on the hill” has led to American exceptionalism. Milton’s reference to the term is based on Greek mythology, however it imposes the same idea of power.

John Milton’s approach to the phrase is very liberal. Like it’s mentioned in Ronald Reagan’s farewell speech “if the city had walls, the walls had doors, and the doors were open to anyone who had the will and heart to open them”. Reagan and Milton allude to “the city” as a place where everyone believes in God and the economy is perfect. Whether used in a religious context or a political context, this phrase gives out the same theme every time, to introduce power.

-Ravneet Dhillon

Why a City On a Hill?

“A city on a hill” to Winthrop was the hope and belief in the people aboard his ship truly creating and becoming a city which would be the epitome of Puritan perfection. He undoubtedly believes in its potential to a surge forward and stand a glistening example to a new world, forged under their guidance. While today’s America isn’t an example of Puritan perfection it does stand as an example and a place that will never go unnoticed by its surrounding areas. If we take the context out of it, and by that I mean the “Puritanical-ness” then what Winthrop meant by this city on a hill, was just a city elevated above all else, a place ripe with innovation and constantly progressing. It would be the city in which all else looked up to. In this sense then, “city on a hill” is applicable today, it is the same way in which many see the United States. As this country is so elevated in technology, society, and economy. Americans, then have created their “city on a hill” that is so important in the affairs of other countries because of its power and pull. It is where other countries look, to see where they can go, it has become an example.

Winthrop’s belief in this small colony seemed then to have been well placed. That colony did become eventually, one of the most powerful countries in the world. But it would be sheer luck that this pre-dated faith in America’s “greatness” would come true. Looking into it, John Milton uses a similar image in “Areopagitica”, where an apostle is preaching from the hill to pagans. This hill we recognize to be found a biblical allusion as it is also referred to in Jesus’ sermon on the mount. In both these instances, a human person is speaking the sacred word of God, i.e (a higher being) to the lesser people. To the people that will follow what they say. The literal height of the hill gives them a figurative authority and spiritual “height” over the people. Winthrop I believe, is trying to express the way in which he believed his people would become like a sort of preachers to the world. They would be that perfect puritan city, which exuded a sort of holy perfection not unlike the preaching done from these hills. Winthrop wanted his people to create a town that sat on a figurative hill from the world around them. They would be that connection from God to the world. A perfect example of how the Puritan God wanted these people to live. For them that was success, and has America became a country of great success? A different type of success? Yes. But, still success. Winthrop truly couldn’t have known that America would rise, not as a perfectly Puritan but as powerful and influencing anyway, and yet it stands that this is true.

“City Upon a Hill” -Winthrop’s perception of how things can be great.

Maricela Martinez, Dr. Garcia, English 102

      In Winthrop’s “A Model of Christianity” is a familiar ideal of how America would like to be seen as today.  Even more so with the recent political controversies that are running rampant like ”making America great again” -which seems to resonate with Winthrop’s reference, “City upon a Hill”-according to most conservatives, can happen if we just erase any progress we have made as a country.  Thus, eradicating anything, in their eyes, that they view to be too far detached from Christian based morals.  Winthrop describes the duties people had with regard to upholding a high moral and ethical standard, and bringing those morals and ethics to what he viewed as a corrupt occupied land.  As with most pre-colonized undertakings, colonizers referenced God as their authority and reasoning for dominating a piece of land, essentially a divine right to occupy and colonize.

     On the other hand, Milton, in “Areopagiticus,” is not delivering that message in the same as Winthrop is.  Milton does reference Greek mythology as well as Bible verses, but the objectives of each author differs; Milton, as opposed to Winthrop, believes that the ability to speak and think should not be a secular opportunity.  He says,  for example, “some grain of charity might win all these diligences to join, and unite in one general and brotherly search after truth”( para 3). Again, while they may not be delivering the message in the same way, the objective to have a better society still rings loud.  

    Some may believe that these hopes that both authors speak of are metaphorical, and while I agree that their descriptive warnings and hopeful visions are metaphorical, there is still a literal objective -to take a pre-existing system, and change it in its entirety.  There seems to be a marginalization, and an ill description of a people -whom have already occupied the land- and a system, that they deemed to be barbaric.  And while, there was probably a common epidemic of deviant and illegal behaviors, there was also a set of people whom were similar to the people of now -impoverished, uneducated, marginalized, outcast and treated as “other” for not being what Milton and Winthrop viewed as Godly or intelligent enough.



The City Under a Microscope: Christian Charity in Modernity

In John Winthrop’s sermon, A Model of Christian Charity, Winthrop creates a working model for Christian love (i.e. charity), which will serve as a functional model for the moral moderation of colony life in Winthrop’s Massachusetts Bay Colony, a colony of which he lived to be a leading member.

In his sermon, Winthrop expresses a need for communitarian solidarity, saying that “every man might have need of others, and from hence they might all be knitt more nearly together in the Bonds of brotherly affection” (34). This sense of warm togetherness is devoutly Christian, as Winthrop asserts the pertinence of the command which asks one to “love his neighbor as himself,” notably because the neighbor is “the same flesh and image of God,” being “a brother in Christ allsoe” (35).

In Winthrop’s view, the Massachusetts Bay Colony is ordained by God, protected with spiritual essence endowed by a holy covenant, enshrined in Christian love and charity. If a failure is to occur, it is a spiritual one: “but if wee shall neglect the observation of these articles which are the ends wee have propounded, [we] shall fall to embrace this present world and prosecute our carnall intentions” (46). If blight and suffering is to come, it is because “the Lord will surely breake out in wrathe against [them]” (46). For Winthrop, the safety and security of this colony is dependent on the adherence to the Christian ideology of self-less love. In this way, the failure of this ‘Christian experiment,’ properly denoted as the “city upon a hill,” will echo throughout the world, given that the “eies of all people are uppon [them” (47). For Winthrop and his guild, their failure would not only be a failure for themselves, but for Christ and all of Christendom.

In this way, I do not believe that Winthrop was “expressing a faith in American exceptionalism;” rather, I think he was cautiously wary about what might happen in the case of failure. For the colony, Christian ideology works as a binding gel, drawing together the people as one collective force for their mutual survival. Winthrop’s portrayal of a city upon a hill is a collectivist one, united within a Christian moral framework and the sacking of the city on the hill, created and structured by Christian love, would resound throughout the world, Christian or otherwise.

In modern American society, we would like to be united—in the same extent—under our nationality, our statehood, or our Bill of Rights, yet representation, respect, and collectivism is an uphill battle, especially in modern American politics. The use of this phrase within politics, such as Obama’s and Reagan’s application, is an interesting rhetorical choice, given that the political arena has been reduced to a binary: red/blue, conservative/liberal, terms which for some mean right/wrong, good/evil. We are not collectivist, united in Christian charity for our fellow American. In reality, modern politics would have us think the opposite is true.

One comparison to Winthrop, however, has a clarity that is almost crystalline. We are a city upon a hill in that we are still a nation on the world stage: a brave attempt at creating some form of populist democracy—the extents of which are of course debatable. We have made a path towards unity when our nation is defined by difference: geographical, religious, ideological, and cultural. Although we are not a nation binded by the romanticism of Christian charity, we are a nation glued by the shakiest, uncertain form of nationalism ever imagined, and for that, we are a nation on the tallest hill imaginable.

—Nathaniel Schwass

A City Upon a Hill

The phrase “City upon a Hill” entered the English popular lexicon through the 1630 sermon “A Model of Christian Charity” (see page 47 in our e-text), preached by Puritan John Winthrop while still aboard the ship Arbella crossing the Atlantic.  Winthrop admonished the future Massachusetts Bay colonists that their new community would be “as a citty upon a hill”, watched and judged by the world.  The phrase alludes to the parable of Salt and Light in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:14, he tells his listeners, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.”

The phrase exemplifies what De Quincey calls “the literature of power”—the ability to move people emotionally throughout the ages and across cultures—especially as a code word for American exceptionalism in U.S. presidential politics since the mid twentieth century.  John F. Kennedy revived the phrase in his famous 1961 speech from Massachusetts, Ronald Reagan later recycled it in his speech on the eve of his election and in his farewell address, and, most recently, Barack Obama reworked it as an anti-Trump slogan in the 2016 Democratic convention [check out the video of Reagan’s famous farewell speech below].  In all these usages, regardless of party affiliation, the message is the same: America is a unique country in human history, a beacon of freedom for the world to follow.

Blog post question prompt:

Students will write a post based on the following questions: does “City upon a Hill” hold the same meaning for Winthrop as it does for us today?  Was he expressing a faith in American exceptionalism that predates the official founding of the United States in 1776?  Hint: John Milton uses a similar expression in Areopagitica, which alludes to the hill in Athens, Areopagus, where the apostle Paul preached Christianity to the pagan Greeks as told in the Bible (Acts 17:18-34).  Students should consider if Winthrop and Milton were referring to the same religious and political ideals when they borrowed the biblical imagery of the city.

The posts are due this Wednesday (Jan. 25th) by 1pm, but students have the option to edit and revise it until Friday 6pm.  Before you write the post, please review the directions on blog post writing and the blog post grading rubric in the syllabus, as well as the “How to Post” tab above.  Please categorize your post under “The English Revolution” and don’t forget to create specific and relevant tags (I will show students how to do this in class Monday). And please sign your posts so that your TA, Hannah, and I know who wrote what.  We will not always able to tell who you are from your WordPress username.