An article published in the New York Times in December 2006 challenges the assumptions about America’s self image and foreign policy that have been drawn from John Winthrop’s famous phrase “city upon a hill.” The article outlines a new interpretation of Puritan settlers as revolutionaries.
“This picture of Puritan America as a pious Greta Garbo, wanting only to be left alone in her self-contained world, is misleading. For one thing, Winthrop's Puritans were not isolationists. They were global revolutionaries. They escaped persecution in the Old World to establish the ideal religious commonwealth in America, their ‘new Jerusalem.’ But unlike the biblical Jews, they looked forward to the day, they hoped not far off, when they might return to a reformed Egypt. Far from seeking permanent separation from the Old World, the Puritans' ‘errand into the wilderness’ aimed to establish a base from which to launch a counteroffensive across the Atlantic. Their special covenant with God was not tied to the soil of the North American continent. America was not the Puritans' promised land but a temporary refuge. God had ‘peopled New England in order that the reformation of England and Scotland may be hastened.’ As the great scholar of Puritan thought Perry Miller explained many years ago, the Puritan migration ‘was no retreat from Europe: it was a flank attack.’ The ‘large unspoken assumption in the errand of 1630’ was that success in New England would mean a return to old England.”