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A Model of Christian Charity by John Winthrop must be understood in context. It was a sermon delivered by Winthrop, the future governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, to his fellow Puritans on the way to Massachusetts.
While not a legal document, it essentially lays out the norms and societal expectations that were to govern the people of the colony, and as such serves as a wonderful primary source for the ideals of its founders. There is a heavy emphasis on charity and especially community, as Winthrop enjoins his listeners to ensure that, in the new society they were striving to create, "every man might have need of others, and from hence they might be all knit more nearly together in the bonds of brotherly affection." The colony was to be a Christian commonwealth, organically united, Winthrop hoped, in Christian love, which he compared to "ligaments." In order to make this happen, each member of the colony had to be willing to subsume his or her private interests (which were nevertheless important) to the public good. Winthrop spoke of a covenant between the Puritans and God, and if the colonists lived up to their end of this agreement, they would not fail to achieve success.
The most famous part of this sermon is at the end, when Winthrop urges his followers to recognize that they can be an example to true Christians around the world. "We must consider," he said, "that we shall be as a city on a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us." This line, a reference drawn from the Sermon on the Mount, has been cited as an early example of American exceptionalism, the belief that the American colonies, and then the United States, were to serve as a beacon of freedom to the rest of the world. This belief remains largely unaccepted by professional historians, but has served as a rhetorical touchstone for American politicians across the political spectrum for more than a century.
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