A Divinely Sanctioned, Practically Circumscribed Colony
John Winthrop's simile that that Massachusetts Bay Colony would be as a “city on a hill” is said to be the locus classicus of claims to imperial American exceptionalism. But this account rests on a misinterpretation of Winthrop's words and the character of the early colony. The covenantal, circumscribed, inwardly focused nature of the colony is evident in the most important documents of the period and belies the idea that the Puritans in 1630 had imperial aspirations. Though many say that Winthrop's words seem to leave the door open to later generations’ imperialism, his full meaning and its Christian context serve as reasons to reject the propriety of this interpretation.
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