tv In Search of the City on a Hill CSPAN October 23, 2016 6:20pm-6:46pm EDT
the archives, doing what you did but getting the credit that i think this book really, really deserves. i have literally leaned on, from my my own work in math incarceration, we have talked quite a bit and you've been great counsel for me and it's an honor and a highlight to be here and be in conversation with you. [applause] >> i want to extend our thanks on behalf of the roosevelt house. i never thought you're talking about me or any historian. you don't have to do a disclaimer. if these curtains had been drawn tight, you've not only parted them, you have torn them down and let the sunshine and for that we thank you.
tonight we thank heather and thompson for an unforgettable conversation. thank you and we welcome you to join us for a conversation. [applause] [inaudible conversation] >> here's a look at some upcoming book fairs and festivals happening around the company country. the louisiana book festival is being held in baton rouge at the state capital. coming up in november we are live from austin for the texas book festival with authors such
as former attorney general alberto gonzales, law professor tim wu and "orange is the new black" actress diane guerrero. later we will be live from the miami book fair on november 19 and 20th. our coverage includes author discussion and call them featuring bernie sanders, fox news host and colton whitehead. for more information about the book fairs and festivals, and to watch previews festival coverage, click on the book fair tab on our website, booktv.org. >> professor richard gamble, wended the phrase city on a hill originate? >> it originated in the new testament, in the gospel of matthew and it made its way into american history by way of a speech or a discourse written by the puritan governor back in
1530. he he wrote what became later a very famous speech called the model of christian charity. gradually, the phrase city on a hill came to describe the use by historians and others to describe america. one of the things i'm most interested in is how america americans got into the habit of calling themselves a city on a helper how did it become an american nickname? the tendency that that i found over the years for politicians and journalists and others to assume that americans from the earliest colonial time. thought of themselves as the city on the hill, but it turns out it took more than 200 years before a prominent american historian started picking up the phrase and applying it to america's identity in the 19th century. >> what is the concept mean? >> the concept in the biblical
setting comes from the sermon on the mound in the early chapters of the gospel of matthew. he says to his disciples in the context of being a light to the world he says you will be a city upon a hill, a city on a hill that cannot be hidden. for centuries, through all the early church fathers and scripture and sermons, that was understood to mean that the ministers of the christian faith, the ministers of the gospel would be conspicuous. in one phrase the way this church translated it says preachers of the gospel will be spectacles of the world and that was not necessarily a good thing. that meant the way preachers behaved and ministers behaved, and what they taught would be out on display in front of the
whole world, for good or for bad and if they messed up, if they talk taught heresy or live the scandal of life, they would also be a city on a hill. you cannot be hidden. that is pretty much the history of that phrase century after century after century. it is still the way the phrases being understood in the reformation, in the 16th century and 17th century, it still awaits understood in the commentaries that john calvin wrote on the gospels of matthew, mark and luke. we find that timelessness to how it is interpreted. we also see another pattern emerging in 16th century and 17th century england. that congregations are referred to as a city on a hill. they are referred to as exemplary congregations and they are being commended by ministers
for being a city on a hill. in 1630, when the puritans made their way across the atlantic to set up the colony of massachusetts bay, that large immigrant group came, john winthrop sat down to write this discourse, to write what often called a lay sermon. he's a politician, he's a warrior, but he wrote a lay sermon and at the very end of that long discourse, he said he aspired for his spirit and colony to be as a city on a hill. for him, it still meant, even though it's a political meaning rather than just a church meaning, he clearly believes that it is still both a blessing and a warning, to be a city on a hill could mean, it means
regardless, regardless, you will be a spectacle to the world. you will be obvious, the whole world is watching you, another phrase that comes out of that speech, the eyes of the world are upon us, which actually became more famous than the other phrase. so winthrop is warning his own community, you are on display. if you fulfill god's covenant in the new world, then you will be praised, it's a blessing to christianity. if you disobey god or break the covenants, you you will still be a spectacle to the world. you will be on display, or the old-fashioned phrase, you will be a byword. you will be ridiculed for the way that you have violated, betrayed the covenant with god. it's an ominous burden to place on these people. everyone is watching which may
or may not have been true. everyone is watching, you are on display, you better behave yourself because the future of the reformation, the future of christianity, the teacher of the gospel rests on the success of your project here in the new world. wended that phrase become politically right? >> this is what i hope is the most interesting part of the story. what i hope is the unexpected part of our own past, not to get around that question or to avoid that question, but they take a slight detour and come back to it, i believe that we as modern americans, when we listen to how city on a hill has been used in modern discourse, i am sure we will come back to that. it was as recent as last week. i think we have a false memory. we assume we have always said
this about our self, but as i mentioned mentioned earlier, it takes 200 years, 208 years before it even enters the history book and is not until the 1960s that it enters our political discourse. i'll put a few of those pieces together. in the mid- 19th century, a very prominent american historian by the name of george bancroft, a name that's hardly known today, if anyone knows the naval economy they will know about the massive dining hall there. that name when he served briefly in the navy, he began to quote from a model of christian charity when it was finally published by the massachusetts historical society in 1938 from
1530 until 1838, the now famous model of christian charity was buried in a family archive, stowed away in an attic and then owned by an aunt aquarium, completely unknown to the american public. it was not in any school curriculum, it was not quoted by any politician or theologian, it could it be because nobody knew it existed. 1838, the new york historical society offered it to the massachusetts this article society and said we see you are interested in publishing original colonial documents. we have one in our archives that we think you might be interested in. certainly. it appears and then this historian, bancroft reads it,
he's a member of the historical society, he gets their proceedings, he reads this and he starts incorporating it into the revisions of his multivolume history of the united states. even then it takes a long time for that speech to become famous, for the phrase to become framers and as i mentioned, it's not until 1961, until january january 1961 that it makes its debut in a political speech. >> who uses it? >> that's john kennedy, ted sorensen his well-known speechwriter, in his 30s at the time, he incorporated john winthrop in the model of christian, not in his inaugural address, but in his farewell to the massachusetts general court, the massachusetts legislature. january 1961, it was such a successful speech that the
kennedy family talk to sorensen and said, you seem to have used all your best material are ready. we still have an inaugural address to go and as i understand it his response was don't worry, we have plenty of material. before his death i had the privilege of exchanging a few e-mails with him and to my disappointment, but understandably, he said he had no memory of how he decided to use that model and the phrase sitting on a hill. i was hoping to find their documentation for the laying of how it made its debut in political rhetoric. he said i'm sorry but it was a very long time ago so we don't know exactly why he reached. i can speculate it a bit, think about how controversial jfk was, think of him as the first
catholic candidate of a major u.s. party and think of him as being irish catholic until the vision, the cultural reputation of the irish catholic in america in the 19th century and onto the 20th century, ted sorensen i believe, performed some magic in this speech. he reached all the way back to the. at ten of. attendance, governor winthrop and connected him directly to an irish catholic president, or president to be. brilliant, brilliant. kennedy, in that speech, was able to connect himself with the very earliest, most authentic, truest american identity, and connected him with what some later called the text of
american history, meaning the foundational text of american history. it's a brilliant maneuver. kennedy from that point on, in fact, the speech is called his city on a hill speech. it. it becomes that successful as a tagline. then we have a bit of a mystery that i am sure you have sensed are ready. we associate city on a hill not with kennedy but with ronald reagan. anyone who remembers the 1980s, we think of christian charity and john winthrop and city on a hill as one of ronald reagan's signature trademark taglines and he used it in more than a dozen speeches. very successful appropriation, a phrase that had belonged to the democratic party, taken taken by
reagan as early as 1968, taken by a speech he gave at eisenhower college, no longer in business. it attaches city on a hill to america and then in the 1970 begins uses the phrase routinely, often at at the end of his speeches, as an inspirational model for america to live up to, this is what we are and who we are and who we are called to be. >> when we think of ronald reagan don't we think of a shining city on his hill. >> we do. >> i haven't spent much time speculating why he added shining , what we see is the five by seven card at the reagan library in california. when we look at those cards that he kept across his whole career for speech preparation, we find one card that has less than a
paragraph from the model of christian charity written out on that card. john winthrop avoid the abella of the ship, the city on the hill. there's no evidence that he knew more than that one part of that one paragraph. that's not a criticism of him, he used it as a resource and had quotations from many people and he would flip through these cards as he was preparing a speech trying to find the right inspiration. somewhere along the line, it just became the shining city on a hill. i think that says something about reagan's optimism, the way he applied the metaphor to mean economic opportunity, the free market system, in the current debate he thought it meant open doors, open immigration. it became, certainly a loss that negative warning that had been
attached to it in the early church. reagan early on would still quote that part of john winthrop that we dare not become a byword in the world but it has routinely been a matter of inspiration or a peptalk for america. in search of the sitting in a hill, they refer to that phrase as potent troubled and tired. i still think that's the case. that has proven itself to be more durable than i ever would have imagined. we saw come up just last week. hillary clinton gave an important address to the american legion.
in that speech, she used a number of celebrity phrases. she called the united states the indispensable nation. she quoted abraham lincoln that america is the last best hope of earth. she referred to america as an exceptional nation, a phrase that have been so controversial for president obama, and she said i do believe, and just in july at the democratic national convention, president obama connected himself to the phrase more directly than he ever has. again, showing its durability. in criticizing donald trump, he said, ronald reagan called america the shining city on a hill. donald trump sees america as a
crime scene. obama did not directly say america is a shining city on a hill, but he said that as a rebuke to the criticism he sees in the trump campaign. hillary clinton said she affirmed that america is the city on the hill. it fascinates me the way this phrase, which never had to be attached to america, one of my favorite historians said, everything could have been different. there is no reason why city on a hill ever had to become attached to america. anymore than any other phrase. it has proven durable, tired yes , and i think even the way it gets trotted out now as a tagline shows, whether we see this or not, shows that it is very weary as a phrase phrase.
it has become a cliché. it has become, it's become part of a war of words. it's it's something we sling at each other in the political contests. you used to believe in a city on a hill. you don't believe in a city on a hill anymore. there might be a ted cruz, during the republican campaign saying we used to be a city on a hill until barack obama and now we are no longer a city on a hill. vote for me and we will again be a city on a hill. it is a phrase that has to carry so much weight, so much rhetorical baggage that i feared the phrase was just burning itself out. at first i heard it much less in the 202016 campaign compared compared to the 2012 in the 2008, but here it is again in the last phases of the 2016 campaign. to the best of my knowledge,
donald trump has not used it directly and maybe make america great again is an invocation of that, i don't know. my other word was troublesome. that's probably what my book drives toward. i approach that in three ways, and i will try not to go into too much detail on these. my book is addressed simply to americans in general, helping americans to recognize a phrase that might otherwise just slip by them. people might say i heard city on a hill on jeopardy last night and people do start recognizing that i'm very grateful for that. that's that's one of the main purposes of the book. will people see and hear what has always been right in front of them. it's addressed to americans in general. it's addressed to historians,
not in a specialized sense, those with an interest in history who like to know why things are the way they are. where did that political rhetoric come from, where did those patterns of speech come from? the book also addresses, indirectly to christians, a variety of christians. what does it mean when you're nation, american christians, your nation has taken a phrase, not with bad intentions, but has taken a phrase out of the gospel of matthew, a phrase made famous by jesus, applied to the church, used by the church for more than a thousand years, and then the nationstate takes it on as part of its own identity. it does so so successfully that it's common for it to be attributed to john winthrop.
in fact, i was told that's what happened on jeopardy. i was told it was attributive to john winthrop and not jesus. one of the implications when part of your own possession, part of your scripture is taken by the nationstate and used for its own purposes. that is part of our civil religion debate that we have in america. >> did you have any input on the washington d.c. landmarks built on a tower of sand? >> i did. i had more input on this than any other book. that is a very perceptive question. i will admit there was another proposal out there that i pleaded with the publisher in britain, and we talked a lot about the timing of the book and
what would connect with the british art indians as well as an american audience. their first proposal was brilliant. it was a recognizable image of jesus delivering the sermon on the mount, with the head of ronald reagan wrapped in an american flag. i saw this, it was sent to me as a pdf, and i said you are marketing people who understand the book perfectly and this is genius but i can't possibly. this is so irreverent this even seems to be unpatriotic, i can't possibly go with this cover. we went back and forth and i said, a hill, a sand hill, hill, a building, a sand castle, could we use this before in this image. i worked on this quite a while and i was pleased with what they came up with. the ominous crack in the sand there captured some of that sense that this metaphor itself is unstable and that it might