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After 410 A. D., no written account gives direct evidence of the events in the British Islands. Gildas was the first to break the silence and testify to a world that had lost many of its points of reference. Cut off from the continent, the insular scholars kept their knowledge of the Latin language and of the writings of the Fathers of the Church. Around 500, Gildas relied on the Bible to interpret the wars between Britons and Saxons, and depicted the misfortunes of the Britons on the model of the Hebrews, as a new Chosen People chastened by God for its sins.
But the mission sent by Pope Gregory the Great led to the rediscovery of the continental chronology of events, and eventually to British reintegration into the Providential History of Roman Christendom. From Bede onward, two fundamental elements for recording history in the British Isles during the Middle Ages were thus established: the need for a chronological framework to be constructed at all costs, and the coexistence of contradictory versions of the past illustrating rival claims to be the Chosen People by the Scots, the Britons, the English and the Saxons.
John Marshall Harlan the Elder is best known for his lonely judicial dissents in favor of civil rights for African-Americans, such as Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. A life-long Calvinist Presbyterian, Harlan had come to understand the Civil War as part of God’s plan to free the nation from the sin of slavery. Borrowing the method of typology from Bible reading, Harlan saw the Civil War as following the type set by the American founders who had overthrown the tyranny of kings. A former slaveholder, Harlan retained the idea that Anglo-Saxons were particularly good at creating constitutional governments. Anglo-Saxonism prompted him to try to extend equal rights to his church’s Presbyteries and to the inhabitants of American colonies after the Spanish-American war, but to avoid talking about so-called social rights that involved inter-racial schooling and marriage. His philosophy of legal formalism could not solve the problems of logic that resulted.
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