Painting of the Mayflower by Mike Haywood
There several stories about America's Thanksgiving, each one more surprising than the last.
The 102 men, women, and children who set out from Plymouth to sail west across the Atlantic crowded into their ship with clothing, food, ploughs, guns, and two dogs, a spaniel and a mastiff. It was September 1620. The Mayflower was small, and hurricanes awaited them. Millions of people who have escaped from oppression since then, and have reached America, can be thankful the pilgrims had the nerve and vision to go.
Many of the men slept on the ship's deck, sheltering under rowboats as they headed into the Atlantic's equinoctial gales. Halfway across, storms cracked a main beam, and almost sank them. They made the necessary repairs, and sailed on toward a wild, unknown land.
They had decided to fling themselves on the mercy of the waves, and sail to America because they wanted something they could not live without. They wanted England's ancient rights and liberties. Recently those liberties had come under attack.
The ancient liberties, customs, and ideals they loved were
Freedom of speech and action and the right to worship God as they chose
Magna Carta, designed to protect the individual from the tyranny of government, and
Common Law, intended to defend every person's rights under fair law.
By late November, the Mayflower pilgrims had been tossed by the seas for two months. Nearing America they decided to land wherever they could. But sailing close to the wintry wilderness of Cape Cod on America's eastern seaboard made them realise they had to make a plan of action if they were going to survive.
On deck they drafted an agreement with three long sentences. They didn’t churn out turgid pages. They already knew they had to try to live according to the Ten Commandments and Christ's teaching to love God and each other.
So they simply bound themselves to cooperation and self-government under majority rule. Their agreement to make decisions democratically was remarkable. It's still remarkable today.
Their good intentions were not enough. After they landed, half of them died from malnutrition and exposure. They had been honest and they had lived peacefully together, and those qualities would prove essential in the future, but they had ignored a fundamental fact of human nature and an essential freedom.
After they landed on the Cape, the pilgrims fished and hunted for food with the help of the spaniel and mastiff. The native peoples shared corn. Their generosity is remembered every Thanksgiving in America.
It is one of the tragedies of history that the pilgrims brought diseases to America. They had immunity to them. The native peoples did not. Many of them died.
The pilgrims died because they had turned their backs on a source of English and American strength. It's the least-known aspect of their story, and one with familiar modern echoes .
The pilgrims died because they tried to create a system in which no one owned property, and everything was shared. It sounds so wonderful! But as we have seen in countries the world over, the theory doesn't work. People become poor and miserable because they have lost the incentive to work and thrive.
Rather than resisting reality, the pilgrims made changes. In 1623 they returned to an English economic system based on incentives, freedom, just law, and private property. They turned to the individual and collective energy of the free market.
Over the centuries this great experiment continued, and America became a place where desperately poor people from all over the world could make a living. It became a place where people did not stay poor and a place where people who became rich gave generously to those in need. What was the role of those people?
Writing in England, Adam Smith pointed out that honesty and peace, keeping your promises and having a voice in your community are essential to a free market's prosperous economy. Most people maintained those fundamental moral values.
So what was the role of government?
Government didn't tell people how to make a living, didn't insert innumerable regulations as stumbling blocks in their way, and didn't seize the hard-earned fruits of their labour in high taxes. Government upheld just law, built roads and bridges, and protected citizens from attack.
America was not perfect, but as Judge Thomas has observed, it was "perfectible".
By 1640 there were 20,000 Brits in New England, and they were flourishing. Despite death and loss, and sometimes despite themselves, they and their descendants would help to plant freedom in their newfound land.
Thanking that glorious Being
In 1619, British settlers in Virginia celebrated “a day of thanksgiving to God”. In 1621, the Mayflower pilgrims thanked God and their neighbours. They held a three-day feast with the Wampanoag people.
More than a century later, in the darkest, most miserable days of the American Revolution, a great victory was won at Saratoga. Congress declared "a day of Thanksgiving" to God. That thanksgiving was accompanied by the prayer that all people under the yoke of tyranny would become free.
After the Revolution, in 1789, President George Washington issued the first national Thanksgiving proclamation -
“Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. . . .”
Today we give thanks to the Lord and His teachings of love. We thank all those who persevere in the face of adversity and fear, summoning their courage to defend justice and liberty. We give thanks to our family, friends, and neighbours who share their blessings with us. We thank you, our readers, for being part of the community of freedom and fair play.
Thanks to Instapundit for the link.
This post is revised and republished every year.