Christian America has tended to view its history through the prism of Providence and American Exceptionalism. In a nutshell, American Christians found their origin in the English Reformation, perceived the American continent as their promised land and believed in their destiny, as the instruments of God's design, to bring forth an earthly era of peace and harmony (for an excellent brief commentary on this millennial strain of thinking, see Okie Gardener's post: President Bush's Millennial Theology).

We also have a tendency to impose Christian order on our story. We teach American history in two installments. There is an Old Testament in which the Revolution is the crucial event, and George Washington is the Deliverer. And there is a New Testament in which the Civil War is the crucial event, and Abraham Lincoln is the Savior of the Union. The blood sacrifice of the Civil War serves as a national atonement for the original sin of slavery. In addition, we are released from the old Covenant and given a new set of commandments and a great commission: "the last best hope of mankind." Along the way we encounter prophets of conscience (think William Lloyd Garrison or Martin Luther King), who speak truth to power and importune us to live up to our American Creed. In all this, the hand of Providence is at work in the American story.

Sometimes history turns on a dime. During the administration of James Madison, the American experiment faced a crisis of its own making: a disastrous Second War for Independence against Great Britain. Decrying an ill-conceived and fecklessly prosecuted war against the world's greatest military power, the nation's minority political party (Federalists) attempted to set itself apart from the hated opposition (Republicans). Locked out of power for four presidential cycles, sensing the public disgust, frustration and dejection over the course of the war, the Federalists met at Hartford, Connecticut. They composed and presented a list of demands to the increasingly unpopular President; unless met, they would no longer support his government or the failing war effort.

Although the Hartford Convention seemed wise politically (and to the Federalists actually quite the moderate approach), they were on the wrong side of history. What did they not know? Events were about to cast their demands in a completely different and unflattering light. At approximately the same time the nation would learn of the events in Hartford, they would also hear of a negotiated peace with Great Britain and a remarkable victory in New Orleans.

The product of America's most brilliant statesman, John Quiny Adams, and perhaps America's most daring poker player, Henry Clay, who bluffed his way to a draw with the British lion, the Treaty of Ghent saved face for the new nation. Securing an agreement to suspend hostilities and restore the American and British relationship to "status quo ante bellum," the American delegation cobbled a great victory out of a series of military defeats and humiliations.

Even more dramatic and incredible, American forces, under the generalship of Andrew Jackson, miraculously crushed the British at the Battle of New Orleans, which effectively ended the British threat to the American West forever. Although the two armies actually fought the battle after the war was officially over, news of the Peace arrived after the great American triumph in New Orleans.

In fact, as Americans learned of these seemingly preternatural events in Europe and in Louisiana almost simultaneously, they often conflated the two and credited the victory on the Mississippi River for bringing the British to heel. Along with the great joy of victory and peace, the news of the Hartford Convention also arrived and sank in. Instead of taking advantage of the ill wind of public opinion blowing against a failed war, the Federalist now appeared traitorous complainers, plotting against the government on the eve of our greatest national jubilation.

The Federalists bet against Providence and lost. And they were never heard from again.

But then there are other times when God does not deliver. For Southern Christians during the Civil War, convinced that God was on their side, the lost cause proved they were not chosen for God's purpose and uniquely blessed and protected. They waited on God--but God gave the victory to their persecutors. Lincoln argued that both sides of the war had claimed the blessings of God--but, in the end, God was on neither side; He had his own side. One should not assume God is on your side. We should not confuse Providence with deliverance.

I am convinced that George Bush believes in Providence. I am convinced that he thinks he is on the right side of Providence.

It is ironic that the datelines from the Lieberman story yesterday are all from "Hartford." Like the Federalists of old, a number of Democrats have bet against Providence.

We can only wait and see where Providence comes down.