"The Wordy Shipmates" is hardly plain history. The big idea here is that the past continues to define us as Americans: people with a history of bookishness, elitist pursuits and a humble, Calvinist heritage. "It's worth revisiting New England's Puritans because they are our medieval people." Vowell writes, "The most storied way to get from the castle moat of monarchy to the polluted shoreline of this here republic is on their dank little ships." On one of these dank little ships, Winthrop gave his "Model of Christian Charity" speech, referring to New England as the "city upon a hill." This famous speech, invoked by both presidents and dissidents, was credited by Tocqueville as marking the birth of American exceptionalism.
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