Were American Settlers God’s Covenant People?
The people called upon to honor God and keep the Faith
By Timothy Ballard
As the Puritans arrived upon the shores of the New World, their leader John Winthrop shared words that sounded a lot like those declared by Father Lehi [ancestor of the Native Americans] when he brought his people to the same land. Said Winthrop: “Thus stands the cause between God and us, we are entered into Covenant with Him for this work . . . . If we shall 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 byword through the world.” Winthrop called upon his people to live the commandments, that God might make them a “City upon a Hill.”
The prophet Nephi [among ancient Native Americans] saw the early American settlers in vision and described them appropriately: “And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld that they did prosper in the land; and I beheld a book, and it was carried forth among them . . . . which contains the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel.” (1 Nephi 13:20,23)
Where did the expression “bury the hatchet” come from?
When ancient Native Americans made a covenant with God to serve Him and stop killing people, they buried their weapons deep in the earth.
Winthrop’s reference to the “city upon a hill” in A Modell of Christian Charity has become an enduring symbol in American political discourse. Many leading American politicians, going back to revolutionary times, have cited Winthrop in their writings or speeches. Winthrop’s reputation suffered in the late 19th and early 20th century, when critics like Nathaniel Hawthorne and H. L. Mencken pointed out the negative aspects of Puritan rule, leading to modern assessments of him as a “lost Founding Father”. Political scientist Matthew Holland argues that Winthrop “is at once a significant founding father of America’s best and worst impulses”, with his calls for charity and public participation offset by rigid intolerance, exclusionism and judgmentalism. But at heart he did truly want to be a good leader.
Winthrop strongly believed that civil liberty was “the proper end and object of authority”, meaning it was the duty of the government to be selfless for the people and promote justice instead of promoting the general welfare. Winthrop supports this point of view from his past actions such as when he passed laws requiring the heads of households to make sure their children and even their servants to receive proper education and for town to support teachers from public funds.