For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us. So that 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...
These words of John Winthrop are quoted by President Ronald Regan on January 25, 1974, at the first Conservative Political Action Conference shortly after the return of John McCain, Bill Lawrence, and Ed Martin, POWs from North Vietnam.
After praising America's achievements, Reagan castigates the increase in government's size, power, and cost. He praises the conservative group, saying that their thinking is more in accord with the hope and aspirations of "our people than are those who would sacrifice freedom for some form of security." Reagan, then, cites the lines of Winthrop near the end of his speech, and declares,
Well, we have not dealt falsely with our God,....We cannot escape our destiny nor should we try to. The leadership of the free world was thrust upon us two centuries ago in that little hall of Philadelphia. In the days following World War II, when the economic strength and power of America was all that stood between the world and the dark ages, Pope Pius XII said, 'The American people have a great genius for splendid and unselfish actions. Into the hands of America, God has placed the destinies of an afflicted mankind.'
We are, indeed, and we are today, the last best hope of man on earth.
Reagan's last lines explicate the meaning of Winthrop's words in modern times: America must help to maintain freedom in this world.