Amazing (2013)


Today’s New York Times reports that, hours before setting a course that now threatens to shipwreck the American economy:

House Republicans opened a debt limit meeting Tuesday morning with a group singing of “Amazing Grace.”

“All three verses, without the words written out,” Representative Michael C. Burgess, Republican of Texas, said. “Isn’t that impressive?”


Some might be impressed with the choice of music. “Amazing Grace,” one of the more popular songs played at funerals, was written sometime around 1772 by John Newton, whose career before then was most notable for his years as a slave buyer and captain of a slaving ship that made the circuit from London to Africa to North America. Bernard Martin, Newton’s 20th century biographer, wrote that young Newton, on his first slaving voyage:

“…gained notoriety for being one of the most profane men the captain had ever met. In a culture where sailors commonly used oaths and swore, Newton was admonished several times for not only using the worst words the captain had ever heard, but creating new ones to exceed the limits of verbal debauchery.”

Surviving a fierce storm at sea, Newton embraced Christianity. He did not allow his conversion to interfere with his livelihood, however, and continued profiting from the slave trade for several more years.

I confess that, unlike the House Republicans, I could not sing the first three verses of “Amazing Grace” from memory:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

The tune, by the way, is one of the most familiar in the Western world. It was known as “New Britain” until the words from Newton’s hymn were superimposed on it in the 19th century.


Today’s Times also carried a delightful correction, this one related to a Republican lawmaker from New York:

Correction: October 15, 2013

An earlier version of this article misspelled, on second reference, the surname of a representative. He is Charlie Dent, not Debt.