- - Wednesday, January 25, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

THE AMERICAN MIRACLE: DIVINE PROVIDENCE IN THE RISE OF THE REPUBLIC

By Michael Medved

Crown Forum, $29, 418 pages

Michael Medved is one of America’s most successful talk radio hosts. An Orthodox Jew, he attended law school, worked as a Democratic Party aide and speechwriter, and eventually found a permanent home in the Republican Party. He’s a member of USA Today’s board of contributors, a former New York Post film critic, and has written books on everything from politics to Hollywood.

His newest book, “The American Miracle: Divine Providence in the Rise of the Republic,” may be his finest work to date.

Mr. Medved examines U.S. history from the Pilgrims to the bloody Civil War. There was a unique connection that many important figures of these periods shared: an unwavering belief in the divine providence, or God’s intervention in our world. “[T]he Founders and their successors who perceived a providential role in the nation that they shaped,” the author argues, “weren’t ignorant simpletons with delusions of grandeur.” Rather, the “perception of higher purposes and grand plans in that case, as in so many others, counts as appropriate, even necessary.”

This means that, similar to the “colorful collection of scoundrels and heroes” who helped shape this nation, “we retain the personal and communal choice of how to respond to haunting, plentiful signs of God’s continued collaboration in the American miracle.”

Indeed, there have been many extraordinary events, surprising coincidences, and quirks of fate that the large footsteps of the early American legends traveled on. Are they just examples of how unusual and intriguing daily life can be, or a sign that there really is a master plan in place? It’s obviously left up to the reader to decide.

Mr. Medved points out some intriguing examples in “The American Miracle.”

Two former presidents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, died on the same day: July 4, 1826. On the 50th anniversary of this great nation, to boot. They were revolutionary heroes, fierce political rivals and great friends. As the author writes, many of their contemporaries, like Daniel Webster, “saw an unavoidable message in the simultaneous passing of the two great men” and how they “ascended to immortality.” Their lives and careers were always intertwined, so it seems almost appropriate that they would both leave this mortal coil together.

George Washington’s battles in the Revolutionary War may have had a moment of divine providence. His troops had been hammered by the British on Long Island. A final blow to the “retreating army still huddled at the Brooklyn docks” could have ended the campaign, and the Americans “acknowledged that he easily could have overwhelmed their defenses.” Yet, for some reason, British Gen. William Howe didn’t strike. He held off for days, in fact. Mr. Medved notes that this odd military decision gave “Washington and his beaten and battered Continentals the chance to break away to fight another day — another seven years.”

Even Abraham Lincoln experienced some strange events during the Civil War.

Here’s one of them. In 1862, a 46-year-old corporal, Barton W. Mitchell, happened to notice an envelope a few feet away from where he was resting. Much to his joy, it contained “three fragrant cigars” that were “wrapped in two long papers covered with dense handwriting in a clear but cramped script.” Mitchell initially tossed away the paper, but “curiosity got the better of him.”

What he found was absolutely shocking. It contained a two-page document from the Army of Northern Virginia which “seemed to spell out in great detail the disposition of the full rebel army and [Gen. Robert E.] Lee’s point-by-point instructions to each commander of his dangerously divided forces in their ongoing invasion of the North.”

In due course, it was determined that this note had been handwritten by Lee’s chief of staff, Gen. Robert H. Chilton. When it reached Lincoln’s hands, he quickly realized the importance of this document. It helped the Union immeasurably during the fighting at Antietam Creek, which the president believed was “the signal from on high he required for his plans.” And all because of three stray cigars.

What are the odds of these events happening? Enormous, to the point that you would have a more realistic chance of winning the lottery. Good fortune is the most plausible explanation, unless you believe that luck is for rabbits. Even those of us who aren’t religious (including me) will be hard-pressed to explain them away with ease.

Some people believe in miracles. Others don’t. After reading Mr. Medved’s fascinating book, it would be interesting to find out how people have subsequently changed their minds.

Michael Taube is a contributor to The Washington Times.

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