John Winthrop, in a picturesque a caravan of eleven ships containing about 1000 people together with their horses and cattle, arrived in Salem, Massachusetts in 1630. Winthrop, considered one of the wisest men of his day, became the founder of Massachusetts Bay Colony and its first governor. He eventually moved headquarters to a small hilly peninsula whereon the highest hill was crowned with three summits. The Indians called the place Shawmut, but the English called it Trimountain, or Tremont, an allusion to its triple hill. Not long after that, it was renamed Boston, after a town in Lincolnshire from whence the settlers came.
Winthrop and his friends settled in Massachusetts, separated from the Church of England, and set up their churches and parishes according to their views. In those days people who lived in the town were one and the same as the congregation of the Church. They practiced the American tradition of self-government. When they meet for church business, it was called a Parish meeting; when they met for civil business, it was called a town meeting. Massachusetts grew into a colony consisting of numerous self-governing little republics called townships. Each town was about six or eight miles square with a village street for its center surrounded by farms. Over time they erected church buildings, a town building, and a structure for defense from attack.
Thomas Jefferson said regarding these New England Townships:
“Those wards, called Townships in New England…have proved themselves the wisest invention ever devised by the wit of man for the perfect exercise of self-government, and for its preservation. As Cato, then, concluded every speech with the words Cathago delenda est, so do I every opinion with the injunction: Divide the counties into wards.”
Jefferson believed the only way to preserve self-government is through localism! With this John Winthrop would agree. This is what Winthrop said about his town:
“We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.”
Sound familiar? That’s where President Reagan got his material from. But when Winthrop talked about a city upon a hill he wasn’t talking about an empire, or Washington D.C., or “the United States,” he was talking about Townships! Jefferson, influenced by this heritage, wanted America composed of thousands of self-governing “cities upon a hill” with a national government limited to few and defined purposes.
America is a product of local communities. Do you want a great country? Then create and maintain thousands of great towns and villages. America is a product of the township.
The thousands of local town meetings throughout the country set the tone for the nation. The character of these determines the character of the State and National Capitals. If you want to change America, think local!
The following is a video supplement to this article, It’s a short, simple, and concise overview of American Government – Local, State, and National. This lesson is unique in that it teaches the principle of Federalism. These twelve minutes will give you a wonderful grounding in the American Heritage of Constitutional Government.