Friday, March 25, 2011

The Gray Champion

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864)
From Nathaniel Hawthorne: Tales and Sketches

In 1686 King James II of England appointed Sir Edmund Andros as the Governor of the Dominion of New England in a bold attempt to revoke the charters of the various New England colonies and unite them under one royal government. Andros, along with a group of advisors that included secretary Edward Randolph, attorney general Benjamin Bullivant, and the former New England council president Joseph Dudley, set about enforcing a regime that was viewed by the colonists (with some justification) as both arbitrary and despotic.

Meanwhile, in England, King James was becoming increasingly unpopular because of his conversion to Catholicism. In 1688 he was deposed in the bloodless Glorious Revolution and the next year William, Prince of Orange, together with Mary (his wife and James’s daughter), assumed the throne.

James’s ouster, needless to say, put Governor Andros’s career in jeopardy. Andros would soon attempt to flee New England, only to be caught and imprisoned. Eventually, the colonists shipped him back to England, where William and Mary released him.

These events form the background of the historical fiction of “The Gray Champion,” which imagines, only days before Andros’s downfall, a tense and combustible standoff between “the group of despotic rulers” and the “religious multitude.”

This Story of the Week selection was suggested by reader Marc Spitzer from Farmingdale, New York, who thought that it would remind readers that, “despite our political differences, we are all Americans.” Angry and fearful, the Puritan crowd in the story exhibits “sober garb, the general severity of mien, the gloomy but undismayed expression, the scriptural forms of speech, and the confidence in Heaven’s blessing on a righteous cause,” but they are also the source of “New-England’s hereditary spirit” that displays itself “should domestic tyranny oppress us, or the invader’s step pollute our soil.” As the editors of The Encyclopedia of Religion in American Politics (1998), in a discussion of “The Gray Champion,” put it, “Hawthorne understood that the same ideas that spawned the Puritans’ religious bigotry also produced a powerful commitment to moral principle that made Puritans resist political tyranny”—thus establishing a tradition of resistance and persistence that has shown itself many times during the course of four centuries of American history.

Notes: John Rogers (p. 238) was a famously fiery Puritan preacher in England during the early seventeenth century. Old Noll (p. 241) was a disparaging nickname for Oliver Cromwell.

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There was once a time, when New England groaned under the actual pressure of heavier wrongs, than those threatened ones which brought on the Revolution. James II., the bigoted successor of Charles the Voluptuous, had annulled the charters of all the colonies, and sent a harsh and unprincipled soldier to take away our liberties and endanger our religion. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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