A Question of Character (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Since the beginning of English settlement in America, there has been a strain of American thought that has regarded the New World as the scene of a great moral experiment. For adherents of this view, America would become the home of a distinctly righteous and well-ordered society. John Winthrop, leading a group of Puritan settlers to Massachusetts, envisioned the society they would build as “a Citty vpon a Hill, the Eies of all people…vpon us.” Consequently, Winthrop exhorted his followers to embody the ideals of Christian life in their community as an example for the rest of the world. Years later, the founders of the United States shared Winthrop’s sense of a moral mission and believed that their republican experiment could be safeguarded only by private and public virtue. As George Washington declared in his farewell address, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” Ever since, the expectation that the United States should cleave to a higher moral standard than other nations has warred with the American ideal of liberty in personal matters. Nowhere has this tension revealed itself so dramatically as in the exemplary level of conduct Americans demand of their political leaders. From the time that Alexander Hamilton was effectively debarred from running for the presidency because of the exposure of an adulterous affair, private sins have ended the careers of American...
(The entire section is 2376 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of A Question of Character Characters. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!