In a recent series of three articles, I retold, with some embellishment, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1837 short story, The Gray Champion. The scene of this historical fiction piece by Hawthorne was Boston in 1689, but the historical background stemmed from “the Glorious Revolution” of 1688-9 in which Britain’s King James II was deposed by the British Parliament and replaced by the co-regency of William and Mary. This had almost immediate consequences for the New England colonies, which had their governing charters revoked in 1684 and had been suffering under the tyranny of James II’s Royal Governor, Edmund Andros, since 1686.
Under the rule of Sir Edmund Andros, the people of New England had no rights. No charter of rights or legislative or judicial body protected them against arbitrary government confiscation or redistribution of their homes or property. Oppressive taxes and trade regulations were imposed upon them without recourse. Public meetings and the press were severely regulated to stifle complaints. In addition, their religious liberties were continually undermined and challenged by government authority. Conditions were far worse in New England from 1686 to early 1689 than those that later resulted in the American Revolution 86 years later.
The replacement of James II by William of Orange in England fueled the hopes of New England to regain their charter and their rights. Governor Andros had tried to intimidate them by a show a force, but a coalition of Puritan clergy, Colonial Militia leaders, and Boston merchants had already organized to take back the rights they held under the Old Charter. They had also secretly dispatched the venerable Puritan leader Increase Mather to England to gain the sympathy of Parliament.
By 5 am on April 18, Colonial Militia companies began gathering on the outskirts of Boston. By 8:30 am, they began filtering into Boston streets from several directions. They were joined by a mixture of angry citizens and scattered militia members and veterans in the streets, gathering into a force of about 2,000. A second force of militia numbering about 1,500 held positions just outside the city. Andros could only rely on about 60 members of his Red-Coat Guard and the crew of the HMS Frigate Rose.
Simon Bradstreet (age 86), a former governor under the Old Charter, along with Puritan pastor Cotton Mather (the son of Increase Mather and grandson of John Cotton), influential merchant John Nelson, and several Militia leaders persuaded Andros to surrender and then placed him and his lieutenants under arrest. Bradstreet and his committee resumed control of the government using the Old Charter.
Hawthorne’s story is a fictionalized account of a real triumph of liberty over tyranny. As such, it is meant to be an encouragement to all who love liberty. The mysterious figure of the Gray Champion seems to represent the “Spirit of Liberty” rather than a single historical person, although some aspects of Hawthorne’s description might fit either the highly influential Puritan pastor John Cotton or Governor John Winthrop, whose 1630 “City upon a Hill” (Mathew 5:14) sermon and prayer were quoted in speeches by both Presidents Kennedy and Reagan.
This Spirit of Liberty cannot thrive without great courage. Indeed, neither liberty nor any virtue is likely to survive unless accompanied by courage. Moreover, this courage must persevere over time. Instant courage on the battlefield is valuable and admirable, but the most crucial courage for sustaining liberty is moral courage, which must most often persevere over long periods of time. Perseverance is the ultimate test of many virtues including both love and courage.
I wrote the three part series on the Gray Champion immediately following the re-election of Barack Obama to the office of U.S. President. Let us soberly admit that no one outside of a madhouse believes Barack Obama is a friend to any Biblical form of Christianity. Since his re-election, a tidal wave of despondency seems to have swept over American Christians, spreading discouragement and crippling pessimism in its wake. There is a realistic fear that Obama’s promotion of secularism and statism will grow stronger in a second term, and the trend of religious and political tyranny against Christians will continue in bolder forms.
But despondency, discouragement, and pessimism are not good remedies for anything. They are the enemies of persevering moral courage—the virtue necessary to sustain all other virtues. My hope is that the Gray Champion will help us recover from the rampant viruses of hopeless discouragement and pessimism.
History often teaches us to hope. This note was found in Robert E. Lee’s briefcase shortly after his death in 1870:
“The truth is this: The march of Providence is so slow and our desires so impatient; the work of progress is so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble; the life of humanity is so long, that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope.”
Finally, we should remember that the Lord of Hosts has already provided us with the ultimate Champion in Christ Jesus. He does provide us with human champions from time to time, but Scripture warns us in Psalm 146: 3 “ Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save.” (NIV)
Can we save our country? It will require a dedication to truth and persevering moral courage to keep the flame of liberty burning brightly. It will also require our own self-searching repentance and honest humility:
“If my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and forgive their sin and will heal their land.”—2 Chronicles 7: 14 (NIV)