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American Jeremiad

Sacvan Bercovitch

Publication Year: 1980

"This is a dazzling performance. It supplies conceptual links between phenomena where historians have often sensed a connection without being able to describe it adequately. . . [Bercovitch] has written intellectual history at the highest level."—Edmund S. Morgan, New York Review of Books

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

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pp. xi-xvi

Rhetoric functions within a culture. It reflects and affects a set of particular psychic, social, and historical needs. This is conspicuously true of the American jeremiad, a mode of public exhortation that originated in the European pulpit, was transformed in both form and content by the New England Puritans, persisted through the eighteenth century, and helped...

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1. Introduction: The Puritan Errand Reassessed

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pp. 3-30

On board the Arbella, on the Atlantic Ocean, John Winthrop set forth the prospects of the infant theocracy* in a provisional but sweeping prophecy of doom. The passengers were entering into covenant with God, as into a marriage bond - and therefore, charged Winthrop, they might expect swift and harsh affliction. Invoking the ominous precedent of Israel, he explained that henceforth the Lord would survey them...

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2. The Blessings of Time And Eternity

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pp. 31-61

Considered in Plinlimmon's perspective, the term jeremiad is an apt one. Jeremiah is at once a historian of horologicals and a chronometer of the future; he both laments an apostasy and heralds a restoration. In Hebrew tradition this dual function is something of a paradox. The chosen people had sinned and continued in sin, had been punished with exile and were being threatened with more severe punishments unless they reformed; but they remained chosen nonetheless, still the keepers of the...

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3. The Genetics of Salvation

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pp. 62-93

The American jeremiad was born in an effort to impose metaphor upon reality. It was nourished by an imagination at once defiant of history and profoundly attuned to the historical forces that were shaping the community. And in this dual capacity it blossomed with every major crisis of seventeenth-century New England: doctrinal controversy, the Indian wars, the witchcraft trials, the charter negotiations. From the start the Puritan...

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4. The Typology of America’s Mission

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pp. 93-131

The Puritan jeremiad set out the sacred history of the New World; the eighteenth-century jeremiad established the typology of America's mission. That outlook, to be sure, had become almost explicit by the last decades of the seventeenth century. But the Puritans were careful to make Scripture the basis of their figuralism. They always rooted their exegeses (however strained) in biblical texts, and they appealed to (even as they departed from) a common tradition of Reformed hermeneutics. Because they believed the Reformation was reaching its fulfillment in America,...

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5. Ritual of Consensus

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pp. 132-175

By all accounts, the jeremiad played a central role in the war of independence, and the war in turn confirmed the jeremiad as' a national ritual. The Whig sermons and tracts express a rite of passage into nationhood, an official coming-of-age ceremony, which had long been in rehearsal. It was a ritual replete with a special set of symbols, a communal myth, and a sophisticated form of socialization - all of these now focused upon...

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6. Epilogue: The Symbol of America

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pp. 176-212

The ritual of the jeremiad bespeaks an ideological consensus - in moral, religious, economic, social, and intellectual matters - unmatched in any other modern culture. And the power of consensus is nowhere more evident than in the symboIic meaning that the jeremiads infused into the term America. Only in the United States has nationalism carried with it the Christian meaning of the sacred. Only America, of all national designations...


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pp. 213-232


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pp. 233-239

E-ISBN-13: 9780299073534
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299073541

Publication Year: 1980