November 11, 1620, the Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower were preparing to go ashore in Massachusetts. It was already cold. There no roofs, piers, chimneys, nothing welcoming, no shelter, nothing except a blank wall of trees down almost to the waters edge. They decided to set down the guiding principles of how they would govern themselves as they started a new and hazardous life in this primordial wilderness:
In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord, King James, by the Grace of God, of England, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, e&. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia; do by these presents, solemnly and mutually in the Presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid; And by Virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In Witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord, King James of England, France and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini, 1620.
Half of them died over the winter, mostly the women and children.
These were people whose views were, after almost four centuries, very alien to us. They went to great extremes and endured great hardships for their beliefs. Few of us have had to do so. I’m glad I haven’t had to. I hope I have their courage and endurance if I ever have to.
But, distant and strange as they are in some ways, they are yet our brothers and sisters in this: They were determined to live under a government of their own choosing, which was answerable to them, making just laws binding fairly and equally on all.
We Americans have, of course, fallen short of this standard many times in the centuries since. But they were the first community to set up that standard on this continent.
For freedom and prosperity and the sacrifices of those who came before us who made them possible, we are thankful.
Best wishes to this blog’s contributors, commenters, readers, fans, friends and foes (I’m feeling magnanimous) for a peaceful, pleasant and safe Thanksgiving.
God bless America.
10 thoughts on “Happy Thanksgiving”
Lex – I don’t find their views alien at all. I find them comforting and, in a sense, eternal. That these people existed, and had these views to which they firmly adhered, and built the most powerful and richest nation in the history of the world, is awesome.
I think of what nighttime must have been for them those first few days, or longer. Beautiful for an astronomer, but surely terrifying at times for these settlers.
They set out to make their own lives and create new homes, and in short, decided to stand for something, which can be admired by any generation of Americans.
Bouncing the Thanksgiving wishes right back at you.
Verity, I yield to no one in my admiration of these people or of their Compact. But they did exclude non-members of their churches from voting, for example. The times they lived in were very different, and much about how they looked at the world was, I think it is fair to say, alien to us now — Or, at least, to me.
Of course, Lex. Things move on. Life lurches forward. But what they were and what they did is mind-boggling
Right on. And the things we still admire about them are ideals we still hold to now. An amazing achievement. I feel sure nothing I ever do will have any impact in 385 years.
Thanks, Lex. And Nappy Thanksgiving to all. When I count my luck (or blessings, perhaps)this dialogue is fairly high on the list.
And. one of the gifts the Puritans brought was a belief all souls – man, womam, European, indigenous, African – were equal before God and a respect for those (say Miles Standish) who didn’t share their beliefs. Sure few of us are going to sign on to their brand of Calvinism, but we can appreciate what it gave us.
The next thing you usually hear is that the Pilgrims ransacked the Indians’ stores of corn, including grave goods. True. What you won’t hear is that the Pilgrims later realized what they had done and sought out the Nauset tribe on Cap Cod to pay for what they had taken. When their guide, Squanto, dithered and delayed, the settlers sent some of their own people out without him. The Nausets were hostile, having previously been raided and some taken as slaves by European ship captains, but they were won over by the fair dealing of the settlers and became friendly. They converted to Christianity and remained in their traditional areas, centering in Mashpee, although disease reduced their numbers to about 500 people in the 17th century. There are currently about 1,100 Nausets, roughly the same as when the Pilgrims landed; this does not count those who were absorbed into the Wampanoag tribe.
My 8 year old son is currently reading a book about George Washington’s Delaware crossing. I called him over to read your brief narrative, and he looked at me gravely and said, “we’re sooo lucky”. I am glad that he can begin to grasp the incredible hardships suffered by our predecessors. Sitting in my warm house (with it’s sweating windows) on a 30 degree day, I feel like the most fortunate soul in the world, with more blessings than I can tally to be thankful for.
I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving.
And I’ll just point out, as Lex didn’t get around to it, that the Mayflower Compact was a typical product of English medieval constitutionalism, and similar to the compacts drawn up, for instance, by trading companies about to undertake operations in foreign parts. It was this tradition that they brought with them that gradually adapted itself to the creation of town and colonial charters, and which subsequently made the creation of written constitutions for the USA (first the Articles of Confederation, and later he current constitution) a natural course of action.
A most Happy Thanksgiving to all! :)
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