A City Upon a Hill


It seems the phrase, “a city upon a hill” has been misappropriated all over the place.  It was most recently ascribed to Ronald Reagan who used it to describe America. He probably got it from his speech writer Peggy Noonan who has lifted other memorable quotes from the pages of history. She likely got it from John F. Kennedy who also used it to describe America. It was first used in America in 1630 by a former Governor of Massachusetts, John Winthrop, in a speech wherein he describes American exceptionalism based on the concept of manifest destiny.

The actual origin of the phrase is biblical, Mathew 5:14: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” I believe the origin to be even earlier found in Plato’s Republic. Plato describes the City-State as the perfect form of government and a philosopher-king as the perfect ruler. Plato uses Athens as an example describing it as “city set upon a hill.”

So you see, there is really nothing new under the sun. Everyone steals from everyone else.




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