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American History 1700-1789 Coursework

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British Colonial Christian theologian Jonathan Edwards created a remarkable piece of writing, which is not only a perfect demonstration of this style of preaching but is also highly demonstrative as an example of Great Awakening major ideas. It can be claimed that this sermon, although Christian in its nature, is more damnation- than salvation-oriented (stressing the idea that God is “angry”), as Edwards primarily emphasizes the argument that wicked men are doomed to burn in hell, and only the will of God keeps them from being sent there right now. Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God consists of ten doctrines, each countering the assumptions that the flock might hold about salvation. The author dogmatically claims that “there is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.” These are particular counterarguments that Edwards cites. First, although the wicked might think that they are safe at least till the Doomsday, Edwards is sure that they can be cast into Hell at any moment God chooses. Second, all the existing beliefs in divine justice are also discarded—since the wicked deserve punishment, nothing can prevent it. Also, the wicked may be deluded by their current well-being and believe that it indicates that they are safeguarded from future sufferings. However, Edwards argues that they are “already under a sentence of condemnation to hell.” Finally, another common delusion is to believe that God is kind and merciful, which may preserve people from hell torments. On the contrary, according to Edwards, God is “angry with great numbers that are now on earth.”

Despite these strong arguments, Edwards acknowledges that individuals may be reluctant to accept them, may be resistant, and maybe will not even be impressed by them. The reason is the perceived grace and mercifulness of God. According to Edwards, it is only expectable from human beings to escape thinking about punishments for their sins and to rely on God to save them. One does not spend all of his or her time grieving over all the wrongful deeds of the past. And the image of hell cannot constantly haunt a person, so people’s perception of hell becomes abstract. Edward writes, “Almost every natural man that hears of hell, flatters himself that he shall escape it.” This is exactly the illusion, in which the wicked find themselves. Disconfirming the misperception is what Edwards pursues throughout his writing. He primarily refers to the omniscience and omnipotence of God. A person should not think he or she can trick God and escape punishments for sins relying on the mercy of God. God provides the wicked with an opportunity to convert, but it does not mean that He tolerates their wickedness. And it should not be misconceived that, as the unconverted live their lives without facing the anger of God, they will pass to the other world escaping that anger, too. Edwards vividly demonstrates that the wickedness should be struggled, and it should be defeated as soon as possible because God may display His anger with sinners at any moment. Edwards thought that his idea of the angry God should become an effective tool for persuading the wicked to change their lives and adopt the Christian faith and principles because there is not only hell to fear, but there are also possible manifestations of God’s anger here on earth, and one does not have to wait until the Doomsday for retribution to come.

It can be safely declared that the rules, norms, and principles of conduct are different for the times of peace and the times of war. In modern societies, murder is a crime. However, killing an armed enemy at war may not be qualified as a crime and may cause no punishment. It is similar to revolutions and protest movements. As Ebenezer Fox wrote, “It is perfectly natural that the spirit of insubordination, that prevailed, should spread among the younger members of the community.” When there are oppression and persecution, the oppressed and the persecuted can be involved in activities that can be easily qualified as unlawful and prosecutable in peace-time. Terrorism is an example of this duality. Many great movements of the past that ultimately led to liberation were initiated as activities that can only be described as terroristic. For instance, the Sons of Liberty, an underground organization that struggled for the independence of the American Colonies and preceded the American Revolution, may be in a way qualified as terrorists in accordance with the present-day definition. According to the FBI, terrorism is something that threatens lives, violates laws, intimidates and coerces citizens, and aims for affecting government policies and regulations. The Sons of Liberty explicitly opposed existing laws and called for change in terms of how their country was governed. Their famous initiative to refuse to pay taxes to the British Empire as long as the Colonies did not have opportunities to influence the decision-making about governing themselves is an example of civilian disobedience that clearly qualified for prosecution at the time. They pursued independence, which might not be something that everyone in the colonies wanted, which is why their actions can be also regarded as coercion. From this perspective, they were terrorists.

However, it should be recognized that there are at least two crucial components of terrorism. Terrorists oppose the status quo, but not everyone who does so is a terrorist. The second component is violence. Terrorists intimidate civilian populations into submission through committing violent acts. The Sons of Liberty did so, too. They would attack British authorities and persecute local authorities who collaborated with the colonists. Violence they committed and called for clearly qualifies them as terrorists in the modern sense. I think that challenging the status quo should not be immediately labeled as terrorism. If one lives in an unjust state, challenging the status quo is not only morally permitted but necessary from the point of view of a citizen and a follower of liberal values. If the status quo is slavery and injustice, one should struggle against it for freedom and justice. In fact, rebellions can be useful, as they are “a medicine necessary for the sound health of government,” according to Thomas Jefferson. However, it is the means of struggle that can be questionable. Violence against civilians is something that should not be justified by whatever high purpose the individuals or the group that committed violence pursued. Qualifying the Sons of Liberty as terrorists does not change my view of the formation of the United States because I did know what political struggle is and how change is attained. However, if such a struggle involves violence against the unarmed and the vulnerable, it should be condemned in any form. I do not think that qualifying the Sons of Liberty as terrorists should change the way the United States addresses domestic and international terrorism today. It has been 250 years, the world has been through many wars since then, and the history should have taught us that violence should not be legitimized and should be condemned. Struggle for change should occur on appropriate political platforms. Terrorists who opt for bombings or shootings should be prosecuted unquestionably.

The most important characteristics of an American that Crèvecoeur described were the detachment from the prejudice and manners of the past that had been mostly based on national backgrounds and the dedication to new norms and goals that are based on beliefs. The notion of an American challenged the previous understanding of a nation. People who shaped the American nation had been connected within their former societies by common history, language, cultures, and centuries of struggling for differentiation. In Europe, every nation had perceived its distinctions that many had been proud of. However, when they came to the New World, they got into a sort of a melting pot and combined. They looked differently and spoke different languages, but they connected around the opportunities that living in the New World provided. As Crèvecoeur writes, “The Americans were once scattered all over Europe. Here they are incorporated into one of the finest systems of population which has ever appeared.” They became united through their common future, not their common past. From this perspective, the American nation was indeed a new historical and cultural phenomenon that destroyed boundaries associated with the differentiation among nations in Europe and created a new framework of national self-awareness and the definition of a nation in general. However, it should not be disregarded that representatives of different cultures brought something from each of them to the formation that later became the American nation. The influences of the New World and everything that happened to the people who arrived there by the time of the American Revolution also contributed to the genesis of Americans as Crèvecoeur perceived them in 1782. The themes of mixing and adopting new ideas and principles are dominant in Crèvecoeur’s description.

Since then, the concept of an American has not changed dramatically to my mind. In the 21st century, Americans still experience the influences of various cultures that initially shaped the nation and continue to contribute to it. America is still the land where people go to pursue principles and ideas rather than to live according to national prejudices like in many other countries of the world. Of course, since Crèvecoeur’s times, America has changed to a large extent. But the change has only proved that Crèvecoeur was right. Americans are a nation that was built upon principles, and within more than 230 years since Letters from an American Farmer were written, America has strengthened its principles and proved repeatedly the nation’s dedication to them. I believe that Crèvecoeur, if he lived today, would still claim that Americans are united around beliefs as opposed to many other nations united around perceived cultural values of national origin. Being an American means being loyal to the ideas of freedom and pursuit of happiness and well-being. From this perspective, Americans have not changed since the 18th century, and the evolution of the nation has reinforced this definition of an American. Crèvecoeur declared that “the American is a new man, who acts upon new principles,” and almost two and a half centuries of history since then have confirmed this idea.

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