God's Hand on America

Divine Providence in the Modern Era

About the Book

The national radio host and bestselling author of The American Miracle reveals the happy accidents, bizarre coincidences, and flat-out miracles that continue to shape America’s destiny.

A hopeful message for our troubled times . . . Michael Medved has an eye for a story, and a preternatural gift for telling it in beguiling ways.”—Joseph J. Ellis, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award–winning author of Founding Brothers

Has God withdrawn his special blessing from the United States? Americans ponder that painful question in troubled times, as we did during the devastation of the Civil War and after the assassinations of the ’60s, and as we do in our present polarization. Yet somehow—on battlefields, across western wilderness, and in raucous convention halls—astounding events have reliably advanced America, restoring faith in the Republic’s providential protection.  

In this provocative historical narrative, Michael Medved brings to life ten haunting tales that reveal this purposeful pattern, including:

• A near-fatal carriage accident forces Lincoln’s secretary of state into a canvas-and-steel neck brace that protects him from a would-be assassin’s knife thrusts, allowing him two years later to acquire Alaska for the United States.
• A sudden tidal wave of Russian Jewish immigration, be­ginning in 1881, coincides with America’s rise to world leadership, fulfilling a biblical promise that those bless­ing Abraham’s children will themselves be blessed.
• Campaigning for president, Theodore Roosevelt takes a bullet in the chest, but a folded speech in his jacket pocket slows its progress and saves his life.
• At the Battle of Midway, U.S. planes get lost over empty ocean and then miraculously reconnect for five minutes of dive-bombing that wrecks Japan’s fleet, convincing even enemy commanders that higher powers intervened against them.
• A behind-the-scenes “conspiracy of the pure of heart” by Democratic leaders forces a gravely ill FDR to replace his sitting vice president—an unstable Stalinist—with future White House great Harry Truman.

These and other little-known stories build on themes of The American Miracle, Medved’s bestseller about America’s remarkable rise. The confident heroes and stubborn misfits in these pages shared a common faith in a master plan, which continues to unfold in our time. God’s Hand on America con­firms that the founders were right about America’s destiny to lead and enlighten the world.
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Praise for God's Hand on America

“A spellbinding page-turner, Michael Medved’s marvelous new book puts our current difficult moment in panoramic historical context. Intensely readable and ultimately inspiring.”—Amy Chua, Yale Law School professor and author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and Political Tribes
“I believe in God. Until reading God’s Hand on America, however, I was agnostic as to God’s role in American history. That I am no longer in doubt about God’s hand on America is proof of how persuasive this book is. And, as a bonus, you get to learn history from one of the greatest living American historians.”—Dennis Prager, founder of Prager University and author of the bestselling Bible commentary The Rational Bible

“Riveting, superbly written, wonderfully researched, and compellingly argued. Many an avowed secularist will pause in his or her tracks upon reading God’s Hand on America and say to themselves: ‘I hadn’t considered that!’”—Hugh Hewitt, NBC political analyst and Chapman University School of Law professor
“Michael Medved is one of the nation’s greatest historical thinkers, and God’s Hand on America isn’t just inspiring; it reignites faith in God and the country upon which He has so richly dispensed his blessings.”—Ben Shapiro, nationally syndicated talk-radio host on The Daily Wire
“An eye-opening, moving, and vitally necessary book.”—John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary and MSNBC contributor
“This compulsively readable account of modern American history reveals in exquisite detail those perilous moments when all could have been lost, but dare I say miraculously, wasn’t. History, wisdom, and education are never so enjoyably acquired as when Michael Medved is the author.”—Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, New York Times bestselling author of Jewish Literacy

“Michael Medved has an eye for a story and a preternatural gift for telling it in beguiling ways. The stories here involve fateful moments in American history that happen for reasons that defy reason itself. Whether you call the cause providence, destiny, the gods, or God is less important than witnessing American history survive—a hopeful message for our troubled times.”—Joseph Ellis, Pulitzer Prize winner for history, National Book Award winner, and author of Founding Brothers
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God's Hand on America

Chapter 1

The Message in the Mountainside

“His Sign, His Seal, His Promise”

Wonders, legends, and mysteries spurred American adventurers of every era to explore dark, remote corners of their continent. On rare occasions, miraculous rumors turned out to be true, shaping the young nation’s mystical sense of itself.

Such discoveries became especially important after the devastation of the Civil War, reassuring the weary populace that America maintained its special place in God’s master plan. Then, as now, a bitterly divided nation, plagued by recent bloodshed and polarizing politics, longed for some unequivocal sign that providential protection still applied to this once favored land.

“Nature Itself Had Spoken”

As early as the 1840s, explorers in the Rocky Mountains heard persistent reports of one such sign—a colossal cross of snow that appeared for a few months each year on the flank of an uncharted Colorado peak. Indians, prospectors, and mountain men spoke in awe of this gleaming vision produced by the late spring thaw on a sheer rock cliff, largely obscured by surrounding pinnacles that equaled or exceeded its commanding height. According to breathless accounts, the magical sight disappeared whenever wanderers approached too close to its sparkling magnificence.

The first credible sighting of this elusive marvel came from a Massachusetts newspaperman who ventured west in an effort to restore his failing health. In August 1868, Samuel Bowles, the respected abolitionist editor of the Springfield Republican and a close friend of the poet Emily Dickinson, set out to tour the sparsely settled Colorado Territory. Like other true believers in the sacred Union cause, he couldn’t shake his postwar funk following the wrenching tragedy of Lincoln’s assassination and the chaotic, disappointing steps toward racial justice and Reconstruction.

In the Rockies, Bowles hoped to rediscover his sense of wonder by climbing to the forbidding, fourteen-thousand-foot summit of Grays Peak. With two companions and a single pack mule, he ascended fifteen miles and camped overnight in the brisk, starry mountain air before the next morning’s final push through snowdrifts fifteen feet high. After struggling over loose, treacherous rocks for the last mile, they came to a viewpoint that stirred their deepest emotions.

“It was not beauty, it was sublimity,” Bowles wrote. “It was not power, nor order, nor color, it was majesty; it was not a part, it was the whole; it was not man but God, that was about, before, in us. Mountains and mountains everywhere . . . Over one of the largest and finest, the snow-fields lay in the form of an immense cross, and by this it is known in all the mountain views of the territory. It is as if God has set His sign, His seal, His promise there,—a beacon upon the very center and height of the Continent to all its people and all its generations.”

Despite this rapturous description, later published in his popular book The Switzerland of America, Bowles left no indication of the mystical mount’s precise location. Without a map or firm coordinates to recall the perilous path to the breathtaking view, travelers who attempted to retrace his steps found only frustration in their attempts to locate the sacred, solemn site the New England journalist had so memorably acclaimed.

Finally, five years later, under the auspices of the United States Geographical and Geological Survey, an expedition secured lavish federal funding to the tune of $75,000 to expose the truth behind the phenomenon already labeled “the Mount of the Holy Cross.” Its intrepid leader, Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden, boasted a national reputation as a decorated Civil War doctor, university professor, and “notorious unbeliever” celebrated for his previous exploration of the stunning landscape of Yellowstone. His new probe of the Rockies and its mythic religious symbol involved botanists, fossil collectors, mineralogists, topographical artists, scouts, philologists, cartographers, and geologists like Hayden himself.

It also attracted a pioneer photographer named William Henry Jackson, who had trained as a landscape painter before fighting at the Battle of Gettysburg at age twenty. After the war, he risked his life again to shoot the completion of the transcontinental railroad from the cowcatcher of a moving locomotive, and then accompanied Hayden on his celebrated journey to Yellowstone that inspired Congress to create the first national park. For Jackson, the desire to capture the first images of the Cross in the Mountainside became a professional obsession as well as a spiritual quest.

In this pursuit, he trekked into the Rockies with nearly a hundred pounds of equipment on an aging, overburdened mule. The baggage included three cameras and heavy glass photographic plates of various sizes, some as large as eighteen by twenty-two inches. These fragile panes had to be coated, exposed, and developed on-site, with no light-metering equipment or predetermined emulsion speeds, requiring “inspired guess work” from the explorer and artist.

Breaking apart from the main body of the expedition, Jackson struggled with his bulky equipment and his balky mule for two days of rugged climbing across Tennessee Pass and the Eagle River. Exhausted, he staggered across the shoulder of forbidding Notch Mountain, to approach the fabled but still-undocumented cross that Samuel Bowles had described. For most of the way, mist rising from the valley below blocked his sight lines, but the air began to clear as he continued his climb.

“I emerged above the timber line and the clouds,” Jackson later recalled, “and suddenly, as I clambered over a vast mass of jagged rocks, I discovered the great shining cross dead before me, tilted against the mountainside.” The snow, buried deep in the fissures of the dark gray rock, glistened like polished silver in the midmorning sun, refracting the light toward the slack-jawed photographer. Jackson stood and caught his breath, silently contemplating “the Holy Cross in all its sublime impressiveness . . . the marvelous mountain on which nature had drawn with mighty lines of snow the symbol of the Christian world.”

Jackson’s weary colleagues straggled up behind him and witnessed a sudden signal that served to confirm the cosmic significance of their discovery. As they caught their first view of the spectacle, a gleaming rainbow shot into the cloudy sky, vaulting out of the thick, low-lying fog, framing the great cross and reminding them of God’s covenant with Noah. As Yale professor William H. Goetzmann described the scene in his 1966 book Exploration and Empire, that rainbow’s brief, eerily timed appearance represented “one of those sublime moments so sacred to the nineteenth-century romantic imagination. . . . Trivial though it seems as a discovery per se, the Mount of the Holy Cross had meaning for all the many thousands who saw its various representations. To the religious mind of the day it was worth as much as all the moving sermons delivered by Henry Ward Beecher. . . . Nature itself had spoken.”

But for William Henry Jackson to capture that solemn pronouncement for posterity, he first had to unpack his skittish mule, Hypo, and set up the complicated camera equipment. By that time, the rainbow had dissolved as quickly as it had appeared, and dank mist once more shrouded the face of the mountain. The determined photographer resolved to wait out the forbidding weather, spending a wet, shivering night near his cliff-side perch high on the slopes of Notch Mountain, struggling to keep both his soggy campfire and fading hopes alive.

The next morning dawned clear and crisp: a suitable blessing for Sunday, August 24, 1873—the Lord’s Day, of course. Jackson rose with the sun to seize his opportunity. He once more arranged his camera equipment and prepared the mountainside darkroom he would need to develop the images properly. Somehow, he managed to expose all eight plates he had wrapped protectively for his climb, and with the largest pane of glass generated what his 1988 biographer P. B. Hales anointed “the most famous image ever made of an American mountain.”

The photo of the Mountain of the Holy Cross, formally presented to Congress and to President Ulysses S. Grant, received wide distribution and caused a national sensation. It became the subject of thousands of reproductions, postcards, souvenirs, and even a U.S. postage stamp in 1951. A framed print of the world-famous photo made its way to Rome, placed prominently in the pope’s private apartment in the Vatican.

About the Author

Michael Medved
Michael Medved's daily three-hour radio program, The Michael Medved Show, reaches more than two million listeners coast to coast. He is the author of over nine books, including the bestsellers Hollywood vs. America and What Really Happened to the Class of '65?, and is a member of USA Today's board of contributors. For more than a decade he cohosted Sneak Previews, PBS's weekly movie review show. An honors graduate of Yale, Medved lives with his family in the Seattle area. More by Michael Medved
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