Book Review: The Light and the Glory: Did God have a Plan for America? by Peter Marshall and David Manuel
“God would provide grace commensurate with the call.”
An excellent development of one exceptionalist view of the founding of the United States of America. Written in 1977, some cultural references now seem either quaint or prescient. Like Evidence that Demands a Verdict, this book draws heavily from primary sources (eyewitness accounts, letters and journals, not just other histories), in this case to argue for divine participation in the discovery and development of America.
“What if God had conceived a special plan for America?”
This book has an agenda. The subtitle reveals it. Naïve readers may miss that this isn’t purely history. It’s “historicism.” Historicism, and its subset determinism, view history through a lens of a priori (preconceived) rules. Hegel did it. Marx did it. Marshall and Manuel do it.
To be honest, everyone who sees cause and effect relationships in human affairs engages in historicism, even/especially the writers of history. What you see often depends on what you’re looking for. What you’re looking for stems from who you are; what is real and true to you. As discussed in Defense of Reading Fiction 104, realities differ. The empiricists (“what you see is what you get”) may not be as right as they think. Reality may be more–much more–than what we experience with our senses. (Another discussion for another time.)
“… raised the curtain for a drama far different from that which God had in mind for America.”
Having said all that, Marshall and Manuel do a good job marshaling their facts to support their premise. They explore where history doesn’t support their narrative and dig deeper to find why. Each chapter opens with an entertaining chat about where their research was or was not taking them. Clearly, Marshall and Manuel recognize that the plan went off the rails several times, and seems to be in jeopardy now/then. That’s the point of writing it. They examine their hypothesis warts and all; this is not a hagiography.
“We learned … not to believe that someone felt strongly about Christianity, simple because he said he did.”
Quibbles: Their narrative is New England-centric, despite George Washington’s role. Northern Puritans and patriots are praised as heroes. Patrick Henry, a devout Virginia patriot, is labeled (libeled?) as a “political opportunist.” They neglect the critical contribution of Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians, which would have strengthened their argument.
“Well-ordered families naturally produce good order in society,” Cotton Mather.
This is how history used to be taught in American schools. Some will praise it’s passing, but it’s instructive to understand this formerly-dominant interpretation of the nation’s founding and imputed destiny.
“We as a people have thrown away our Christian heritage.”