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


“City Upon a Hill”

In A Model of Christian Charity, Winthrop directs his sermon towards the importance of obeying God and prioritizing him as they construct their colonial life. The basis of religion having an impact in government should seem long gone since our current political system reiterates a society where church and state should be separate but are they? While the message has been altered for a personal agenda of the person quoting “city upon a hill” the comparisons being made cannot be ignored. The City in which discussed from a president-elect perspective refers to the United States and how we choose to go about that information, being put on a Pedestal or Hill, can result in either thriving in society or suffering, because automatically we’re to believe there is no other option. Winthrop not only reiterated the importance of God but also what makes someone a “true Christian”. He states, “First of all, true Christians are of one body in Christ (1 Cor. 12). Ye are the body of Christ and members of their part. All the parts of this body being thus united are made so contiguous in a special relation as they must needs partake of each other’s strength and infirmity; joy and sorrow, weal and woe. If one member suffers, all suffer with it, if one be in honor, all rejoice with it” (5). We can also say that when used in politics rather than it being “true Christians” what is meant is “true Americans”, the message should be that we should be equal and when one member suffers so will everyone else but does it happen that way? When people in society are thriving and others are struggling we have become a political system in which being left behind in support, literally and figuratively, is evident. When Obama, for instance, used this sermon as an anti-Trump slogan he predicted an outcome where the strive to being a “true American” will be taken out of context and when done so will result in many people getting left behind, suffering.

Winthrop’s intention as I perceive through this sermon was optimism for the colonized land; to lead a group of people whom aspire to be “true Christians” such as he was. The lingering threat that someone will strive away from being a “true Christian” is met with an ultimatum; if you stay behind we all crumble since you’re going against God. What has evolved overtime within our political system is that when someone stays behind then they will suffer while everyone else will go on being a “true American” along with their current leader, would we also say that this leader is being displayed as a “God”? Is there a possibility that Winthrop’s sermon has been twisted into making a society such as the United States believe that their leader is equivalent to a God, in a way that we should not question nor differ from their philosophy?

-Kristy Frausto

Different Meanings, Same Consequences

For Winthrop, it might have just been wishful thinking. I do not think the Arbella passengers would have been as adrenalized if Winthrop have called the new world a vacant lot-not that it was vacant anyway. But just as literature can show us a glimpse of the world through the text we are reading, I have learned it ends up working both ways. “A City Upon a Hill” was fed to the passengers of the Arbella through a sermon, along with an immense amount of alcohol; and centuries later, after the construction of the “strongest nation in the world” (which, in fact, was built on slavery and genocide) many of us continue to believe we are somehow superior than-? Oh yeah, “third-world” nations.

It is difficult to identify when the meaning of the phrase “A City Upon a Hill” shifted. But I think it has been internalized so deeply into people that grow up in this country, and even used to justify the oppression of folks that maybe do not look like the people that were on the Arbella or maybe do not hold the same religious beliefs as they did.

For Ronald Reagan, I personally do not think it was difficult for him to regurgitate “A City Upon a Hill” in his farewell speech. It even sounded nice. The way the camera zoomed in and everything-real nice. Probably just as nice as the newest 21st century research university, a University of California, built right in the center of California. Where? Low-key…upon a hill.


Thanks for reading!

-Israel Alonso

America: A Country Upon the Hill

In 1630 Governor John Winthrop and company made the dangerous journey from England to the new world (New England), and just before they left they sent a message to the the King called “The Humble Request of His Majesties Loyall Subjects.” In this pamphlet, the colonists assured the King that they were still loyal subjects of England, and more importantly, still members of the Church of England. In other words, the colonists were telling their brethren in England-  we’re cool bro. So while they wanted to have some freedom, they considered themselves loyal Englishmen, or at least they were sure to tell the King that. They even called their new home New England, yet they obviously had reason to leave, so did Winthrop and co. embody “Americans” before America even existed? I think yes, America was based on freedom and isn’t that what the colonists wanted?  It wasn’t America yet, but the seeds were there.

While aboard the ship, Winthrop gave a sermon entitled, “A Modell of Christian Charity.” Within this sermon, Winthrop explained, “For wee must consider that wee shall be as a citty upon a hill. The eies of all people are upon us.” In other words- All eyes are on us, don’t blow it. Does the term, “A city upon a hill” have the same meaning to us today? I think that the analogy does apply to America, maybe it is even more pertinent to our society today. While the colonists were under scrutiny, it was certainly from a far. Today traveling does not hold the danger that it once did, but in 1630 traveling from England to New England was not a simple thing. Not only is travel considerably easier, but also our technology, particularly social media, allows for the world to be aware of everything America is doing. Let’s face it, the President sneezes and in 5 minutes the whole world knows about it thanks to Twitter. America is certainly a country upon the hill. With our racial issues, our woman’s rights issues, and our controversial President all eyes are certainly upon us.  America has been often in the lime light, and we are definitely under scrutiny now. So, we are a country upon the hill, all eyes are on us let’s not blow it!


-Katie Oswald



“City upon a Hill” Remains the Same

Words as we know them are often used out of its original context to create new meaning. The word gay, for instance, described a person who was seen as lighthearted and carefree, and to be called gay was a compliment. It was once casually used by people of high class making the use of the word sophisticated and elegant. Today, it is used as an insult in the form of oppression of a homosexual man and sometimes as a joke between friends. Then there are some words and phrases that will not change in meaning such as the phrase Winthrop, Milton, Reagan, and Obama incorporated into their speeches even if decades have passed. The use of the phrase instills the idea of being an exceptional nation like no other, being what others would hope to become. Even if two persons were not referring to the same religious and political ideas when they borrowed the imagery of the city, it will always hold the same meaning to listeners.

Winthrop reinterpreted Jesus’s words of the city upon a hill to establish a democracy in which the people will be provided a role with rules to follow, which he sought as the way to achieve peace and freedom. Reagan and other Presidents recited the phrase in other contexts, in relation to human freedom and rights rather than religious freedom. The phrase acts as the sole foundation for progress to both Winthrop and the presidents. Though they all provide their own definition of the city upon a hill, they all achieved one thing which is bringing out the same kind of emotions out of their followers, the kind of emotions that make them want to become better. The definition may have been interpreted slightly different from what it was, but it ultimately holds the same impact and the same meaning. Whether the goal was to create a good Christian (Winthrop), or a good citizen (Reagan, etc.) this one phrase can rejoice a nation in any context it is used. So unless the definition has been altered drastically, for example, having the phrase mean something like exposing one’s identity for the world to view, then it will remain the same.

-Van Vang

City Upon a Hill– A Common Purpose

Winthrop’s “city upon a hill” displays the belief he had in American exceptionalism. “A city upon a hill” represents this ideal that everyone must work together to influence change in order to make something, in this case, the U.S. exceptional. This belief still holds a similar meaning today, which is why Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama used it in a way to encapsulate how the U.S. represents freedom and opportunity for so many people.

The idea of an actual city upon a hill is  a vision where everyone must unite together, without this, there would be no sense of community. It would be difficult for one person to change something for a whole group of people, which is why Winthrop emphasized the necessity of working together. Although when Winthrop said this he was not saying it with the U.S. in mind, it can still fit in today. With Donald Trump as the new president, it is important for this country to remain united. Equality and freedom are what makes the U.S the country it is, as what Reagan and Obama emphasized in their speeches.

-Natalia Alvarado

Ambiguous Values

I don’t believe that the thing Winthrop quoting city upon a hill holds the same meaning for Winthrop as it does for us today. Because language changes, and there are different interpretations based on times and place. Although some values are still carried they can be interpreting in different light. For example, Winthrop’s A model of Christian Charity (1630) his targeted audience is the people from Britain who are Puritans/ Separatist which included an all-white group race. This means that the rules that were in placed to the people as Winthrop recite it in the ship before getting to the New World was meant for only people like them as he states, “wee must entertain each other in brotherly affection” (Winthrop 46-47). His use of the words “brotherly affection” relates back to this idea of family. In a family, almost everyone has at least one similarity in the characteristic of their family member; this includes the ethnicity of the people he was targeting, this matters because they will only take care of those that are only the same. This can be further explored, as Winthrop keeps using the words that relate to brotherhood or a family bond but still creates a division saying that there are enemies by trying to “purify” the Church that God would take care of them “when ten od us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies” which leaves space for an ideal that there will be others that are different from themselves to oppose those established values (47). Ultimately, the ambiguity of the words that relate to family, create a confusion between the values and context of where the biblical “a city upon a hill” are referred in politically.

Winthrop’s historical text, began the historical context in creating what the ideals that are placed in America today; these ambiguous ideals are still reference by recent presidents such as John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama. As we are told Barack Obama rework it as a form to protest Donald Trump. Therefore, in the context of political stands, whether liberal or conservative Barack Obamas reference to “City upon a Hill” which is was meant to be a form union of believes is conflicted with the overwhelming diverse population that we have today in America. A liberal may have interpreted his speech as a way to say that as a collected group, to attack the ideals of conservatives, without knowing where they come from a different perspective. Conservative’s may have interpreted an attack on Trump, yet it may not be an attack on Trumps, but the values that were spoken in Winthrop’s A Model of Christian Charity and a reminder of “brotherly affection” that we have to show to each other. The way I took Obama’s reference was that no matter who takes office in the white house it is up to the people to put aside their differences in order to progress as a nation for everyone to live the live they pursuit. Religion also plays a role in the interpretation of the diverse American population.

Enrique Ramos

A City Upon a Hill: Vulnerable prosperity

At the top of a peak, off in the distance among the protruding sunrise- a kingdom. When we look at something ideal, models, and dreams, we associate them with precision, unity and gracefulness. A community on top a hill shows knowledge and cooperation. Many tales are told to that of which a person must climb a hill or mountain if they want to obtain some mystical knowledge, quite literally rising to a higher power.

Winthrop writes of the absolute necessity of having to unify as a community. It is through the message of God that the people- rich and poor- will be the body, joined together intertwined shooting forth for one purpose. It may be as that of a master crafted watch: all the parts must move together operating intricately in order to have functionality and be able to display the master craft. A model community is to be in place and display harmonious bonding that radiates profound love. The mercy, understanding, and patience of everyone in the community is what will maximize the relation to the church and to God. God is said to have made people in different classes to show his wisdom in the variety of different people. We must see the differences in others, absorb them, and then find common ground.

To be on a hill is being seen, and so more pressure will be on to do good, and well. The most refined actors, athletes, public speakers, politicians, and singers all have one thing in common: When they perform, it looks effortless and shows art and beauty. That is how the hill is supposed to resemble and foster all those that reside within it.


-Daniel Estrada

Evolution of The concept of American Exceptionalism

John Whiston and other puritans sailed over on the Anella to the new world to escape religious persecution of the Church of England. On the Ship, Winthrop proclaimed to his people that there colony will be viewed as a “city upon a hill.” in essence, that there failure to survive and thrive will result punishment from God. this sermon form Winthrop is the dawn of American Exceptionalism. Winthrop uses this concept to motivate his people. Over time the concept of American Exceptionalism has changed.  As America developed culturally and socially how Americans perceive of their nation changes. The reason for using this concept has changed drastically from Winthrop’s time to the modern era. In the modern era, American exceptionalism has been used reinforce that the purpose of government is to safeguard life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and American strength abroad. Even though they differ, Both Winthrop and Ronald reagan refereed God when talking about American Exceptionalism. For example Winthrop used American exceptionalism as a From a motivation for his people to in survive the new world, but now politans use the same concept to justification American military strength.

-Conor Morgan

“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.