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Bonds of Affection

Civic Charity and the Making of America—Winthrop, Jefferson, and Lincoln

Notions of Christian love, or charity, strongly shaped the political thought of John Winthrop, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln as each presided over a foundational moment in the development of American democracy. Matthew Holland examines how each figure interpreted and appropriated charity, revealing both the problems and possibilities of making it a political ideal.

Holland first looks at early American literature and seminal speeches by Winthrop to show how the Puritan theology of this famed 17th century governor of the Massachusetts Colony (he who first envisioned America as a "City upon a Hill") galvanized an impressive sense of self-rule and a community of care in the early republic, even as its harsher aspects made something like Jefferson's Enlightenment faith in liberal democracy a welcome development . Holland then shows that between Jefferson's early rough draft of the Declaration of Independence and his First Inaugural Jefferson came to see some notion of charity as a necessary complement to modern political liberty.

However, Holland argues, it was Lincoln and his ingenious blend of Puritan and democratic insights who best fulfilled the promise of this nation's "bonds of affection." With his recognition of the imperfections of both North and South, his humility in the face of God's judgment on the Civil War, and his insistence on "charity for all," including the defeated Confederacy, Lincoln personified the possibilities of religious love turned civic virtue.

Weaving a rich tapestry of insights from political science and literature and American religious history and political theory, Bonds of Affection is a major contribution to the study of American political identity. Matthew Holland makes plain that civic charity, while commonly rejected as irrelevant or even harmful to political engagement, has been integral to our national character.

The book includes the full texts of Winthrop's speech "A Model of Christian Charity"; Jefferson's rough draft of the Declaration and his First Inaugural; and Lincoln's Second Inaugural.

About the Author

Matthew S. Holland is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Brigham Young University.


"A thoughtfully and carefully crafted book...Holland's command of the literature and critical analysis of the texts are truly impressive."—Library Journal

"A book well worth reading, both in terms of its insights into American politics and as an example of how to read texts carefully."—Politics and Religion


"Bonds of Affection is an exemplary piece of scholarship. It is thoughtfully conceived and rigorously argued. Readers will be impressed by the exceptional breadth and depth of knowledge displayed, as well as by the author's philosophical sophistication and interpretative skills. Matthew S. Holland is a rising star in the field of American political thought."—Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, Princeton University

"Matthew Holland reminds us of a concept we are in danger of forgetting: civic affection and the role it played in the forming of our union. Although we may never meet face to face, citizens are united by bonds that go beyond self-interest—that is Holland's thesis—and he elaborates it with careful historic analysis. An interesting and moving work."—Jean Bethke Elshtain, Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics, The University of Chicago and author of Democracy on Trial

"In this insightful and elegantly written book, Matthew Holland recovers a tradition of 'civic charity' that transcends the one-sided 'individualism' of modern liberal theory and practice. He richly illuminates the philosophical statesmanship of Winthrop, Jefferson, and Lincoln and reflects deeply on the 'bonds of affection' that bind and elevate human beings. This is an important scholarly contribution as well as an aid to American self-understanding."—Daniel J. Mahoney, Assumption College

"Holland offers a fresh new reading of standard Lincoln texts, especially of the Second Inaugural, which is quite an accomplishment given the voluminous scholarship deconstructing Lincoln texts. His argument for 'civic charity' in public life will challenge Lincoln scholars to think again about accommodations between the secular and the sacred in the meaning and intent of Lincoln's words."—Bryon Andreasen, research historian, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum

"Argues persuasively that ideas of Christian love and charity have played a much larger role in American political thought than usually suggested. Matthew S. Holland earns our trust in telling this compelling story because of his meticulous scholarship, employment of multiple angles of vision in the close reading of historical texts, and a lucid writing style that seamlessly brings together the there and then with the here and now."—Ronald C. White Jr., author of The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words

Georgetown University Press
Religion and Politics

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