Thursday, November 28, 2019

Pilgrims vs. Conquerors

Were the first people to settle in the New World of America conquerors? Did they come to overrun the people they found there? Or did they come for a more personal reason? 

Did the indigenous people of this new land become the only reason America survived as we know it today? Was there nothing that the settlers could do on their own?

The story of Thanksgiving as taught in the United States has changed over the generations. Some could claim that this is because we have discovered new information about what actually happened, and some could cite this information and apply it to the first plantation at Plymouth.

However, it doesn't tell the whole story.

The settlers who embarked on their journey across the Atlantic Ocean on the Mayflower in 1620 were a group of 'separatists' - people who didn't buy into the Church of England and King James' interpretation of The Bible.  They wished to interpret The Bible as individuals; to be free to read and evangelize The Word themselves, and not have it be told to them.

So they took on a hard task of establishing a new Holland colony themselves; to embark on a journey to a new world where no one was ruler over them.

Textbooks would have us believe that if it were not for the indigenous people in this New World, that the bumbling, ignorant settlers would have died. The thanks that we give today is for the generosity of the Indians alone, and we thus repaid them by slaughtering them and taking away what was rightly theirs.

Now there is a modicum of truth in some of this interpretation. There is no denying that some of these things happened.

But it doesn't explain the actual reason for the First Thanksgiving, nor the reason we continue to celebrate it in the United States.

William Bradford, the leader of the pilgrimage to the New World on the Mayflower and first governor of the plantation at Plymouth, wrote a detailed journal of what happened to the 102 people that sailed across the Atlantic.  Of the 102 people on the ship, 40 were pilgrims wanting to settle in this new place.

On the journey, Bradford set up an agreement, a contract, that established” how they would live once they got there. The contract set forth “just and equal laws for all members of the new community, irrespective of their religious beliefs,” or political beliefs. “Where did the revolutionary ideas expressed in the Mayflower Compact come from? From the Bible.

The Pilgrims were a “devoutly religious people completely steeped in the lessons of the Old and New Testaments. They looked to the ancient Israelites for their example. And, because of the biblical precedents set forth in Scripture, they never doubted that their experiment would work.” They believed in God. They believed they were in the hands of God. As you know, “this was no pleasure cruise, friends. The journey” to the New World on the tiny, by today’s standards, sailing ship. It was long, it was arduous.

There was sickness, there was seasickness, it was wet. It was the opposite of anything you think of today as a cruise today on the open ocean. When they “landed in New England in November, they found, according to Bradford’s detailed journal, a cold, barren, desolate wilderness. There were no friends to greet them, he wrote. There were no houses to shelter them. There were no inns where they could refresh themselves.” There was nothing.

“[T]he sacrifice they had made for freedom was just beginning. During the first winter, half the Pilgrims — including Bradford’s own wife — died of either starvation, sickness or exposure.” They endured that first winter. “When spring finally came,” they had, by that time, met the indigenous people, the Indians, and indeed the “Indians taught the settlers how to plant corn, fish for cod and skin beavers” and other animals “for coats.” But there wasn’t any prosperity. “[T]hey did not yet prosper!” They were still dependent. They were still confused. They were still in a new place, essentially alone among like-minded people.

This is where many text books end the story. But this is merely the beginning; the struggle continued and was overcome only through the changes that Bradford implemented in order to survive. These weren't ideas provided by the Indians, nor were they accomplished by overrunning the Indians.

Thanksgiving is actually explained in some textbooks as a holiday for which the Pilgrims gave thanks to the Indians for saving their lives, rather than what it really was. That happened, don’t misunderstand. That all happened, but that’s not — according to William Bradford’s journal — what they ultimately gave thanks for. “Here is the part that has been omitted: The original contract” that they made on the Mayflower as they were traveling to the New World…
They actually had to enter into that contract “with their merchant-sponsors in London,” because they had no money on their own. The needed sponsor. They found merchants in London to sponsor them. The merchants in London were making an investment, and as such, the Pilgrims agreed that “everything they produced to go into a common store,” or bank, common account, “and each member of the community was entitled to one common share” in this bank. Out of this, the merchants would be repaid until they were paid off.

“All of the land they cleared and the houses they built belong to the community as well.” Everything belonged to everybody and everybody had one share in it. They were going to distribute it equally.” That was considered to be the epitome of fairness, sharing the hardship burdens and everything like that. “Nobody owned anything. It was a commune, folks. It was the forerunner to the communes we saw in the ’60s and ’70s out in California,” and other parts of the country, “and it was complete with organic vegetables, by the way.

“Bradford, who had become the new governor of the colony, recognized that” it wasn’t working. It “was as costly and destructive…” His own journals chronicle the reasons it didn’t work. “Bradford assigned a plot of land” to fix this “to each family to work and manage,” as their own. He got rid of the whole commune structure and “assigned a plot of land to each family to work and manage,” and whatever they made, however much they made, was theirs. They could sell it, they could share it, they could keep it, whatever they wanted to do.

What really happened is they “turned loose” the power of a free market after enduring months and months of hardship — first on the Mayflower and then getting settled and then the failure of the common account from which everybody got the same share. There was no incentive for anybody to do anything. And as is human nature, some of the Pilgrims were a bunch of lazy twerps, and others busted their rear ends. But it didn’t matter because even the people that weren’t very industrious got the same as everyone else. Bradford wrote about how this just wasn’t working.

“What Bradford and his community found,” and I’m going to use basically his own words, “was that the most creative and industrious people had no incentive to work any harder than anyone else… [W]hile most of the rest of the world has been experimenting with socialism for well over a hundred years — trying to refine it, perfect it, and re-invent it — the Pilgrims decided early on,” William Bradford decided, “to scrap it permanently,” because it brought out the worst in human nature, it emphasized laziness, it created resentment.

Because in every group of people you’ve got your self-starters you’ve got your hard workers and your industrious people, and you’ve got your lazy twerps and so forth, and there was no difference at the end of the day. The resentment sprang up on both sides. So Bradford wrote about this. “‘For this community [so far as it was] was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort.

“For young men that were most able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense,'” without any payment, “‘that was thought injustice.’ Why should you work for other people when you can’t work for yourself? What’s the point? … The Pilgrims found that people could not be expected to do their best work without incentive.

“So what did Bradford’s community try next? They unharnessed the power of good old free enterprise by invoking the undergirding capitalistic principle of private property. Every family was assigned its own plot of land to work and permitted to market its own crops and products. And what was the result? ‘This had very good success,’ wrote Bradford, ‘for it made all hands [everybody] industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been.’ …

So, the power of the individual was unleashed, and the prosperity that ensued they were grateful for. News of this success spread back to Europe and more people came to be a part of it.  They fled the many interpretations of socialism that inevitably bring out the bad parts of human nature to be part of a system that allowed them to take advantage of their own strengths and excel them.

The incentive to exceed what you have done or been for your own benefit allows all to excel. Because with this structure, that which one isn't necessarily good at can be obtained from someone who is. It is free to balance itself. Those that don't want to do one thing or another don't have to, but have to provide something of value to those who do want to do it.

For this independence, we should be truly thankful.

George Washington cited this great experiment and its origins as a human nature put forth by God.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Thanksgiving is a time to thank those around us for their love, compassion, and support. It is also a time to thank God for the divine nature of the human soul for the benefits of such a thing - for human drive to excel, for human nature to provide for him/herself, to succeed at something that makes us remember what it is to be human. To be a servant of God and His Grace and Forgiveness.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all, and may you all remember those who came before us for their journey that provided our own.

God Bless


Rush Limbaugh's "The Real Story of Thanksgiving"
George Washington's Proclamation of Thanksgiving

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