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Topic: Thanksgiving (Read 3979 times)
November 19, 2007, 09:06:34 PM »
Mark Steyn: World should give thanks for America
Speaking as a misfit unassimilated foreigner, I think of Thanksgiving as the most American of holidays.
Christmas is celebrated elsewhere, even if there are significant local variations: In Continental Europe, naughty children get left rods to be flayed with and lumps of coal; in Britain, Christmas lasts from Dec. 22 to mid-January and celebrates the ancient cultural traditions of massive alcohol intake and watching the telly till you pass out in a pool of your own vomit. All part of the rich diversity of our world.
But Thanksgiving (excepting the premature and somewhat undernourished Canadian version) is unique to America. "What's it about?" an Irish visitor asked me a couple of years back. "Everyone sits around giving thanks all day? Thanks for what? George bloody Bush?"
Well, Americans have a lot to be thankful for.
Europeans think of this country as "the New World" in part because it has an eternal newness, which is noisy and distracting. Who would ever have thought you could have ready-to-eat pizza faxed directly to your iPod?
And just when you think you're on top of the general trend of novelty, it veers off in an entirely different direction: Continentals who grew up on Hollywood movies where the guy tells the waitress "Gimme a cuppa joe" and slides over a nickel return to New York a year or two later and find the coffee now costs $5.75, takes 25 minutes and requires an agonizing choice between the cinnamon-gingerbread-persimmon latte with coxcomb sprinkles and the decaf venti pepperoni-Eurasian-milfoil macchiato.
Who would have foreseen that the nation that inflicted fast food and drive-thru restaurants on the planet would then take the fastest menu item of all and turn it into a Kabuki-paced performance art? What mad genius!
But Americans aren't novelty junkies on the important things. The New World is one of the oldest settled constitutional democracies on Earth, to a degree the Old World can barely comprehend. Where it counts, Americans are traditionalists.
We know Eastern Europe was a totalitarian prison until the Nineties, but we forget that Mediterranean Europe (Greece, Spain, Portugal) has democratic roots going all the way back until, oh, the mid-Seventies; France and Germany's constitutions date back barely half a century, Italy's only to the 1940s, and Belgium's goes back about 20 minutes, and currently it's not clear whether even that latest rewrite remains operative. The U.S. Constitution is not only older than France's, Germany's, Italy's or Spain's constitution, it's older than all of them put together.
Americans think of Europe as Goethe and Mozart and 12th century castles and 6th century churches, but the Continent's governing mechanisms are no more ancient than the Partridge Family. Aside from the Anglophone democracies, most of the nation-states in the West have been conspicuous failures at sustaining peaceful political evolution from one generation to the next, which is why they're so susceptible to the siren song of Big Ideas – communism, fascism, European Union.
If you're going to be novelty-crazed, better the zebra-mussel cappuccino than the Third Reich.
Even in a supposedly 50/50 nation, you're struck by the assumed stability underpinning even fundamental disputes. If you go into a bookstore, the display shelves offer a smorgasbord of leftist anti-Bush tracts claiming that he and Cheney have trashed, mangled, gutted, raped and tortured, sliced 'n' diced the Constitution, put it in a cement overcoat and lowered it into the East River. Yet even this argument presupposes a shared veneration for tradition unknown to most Western political cultures: When Tony Blair wanted to abolish, in effect, the upper house of the national legislature, he just got on and did it.
I don't believe the U.S. Constitution includes a right to abortion or gay marriage or a zillion other things the Left claims to detect emanating from the penumbra, but I find it sweetly touching that in America even political radicalism has to be framed as an appeal to constitutional tradition from the powdered-wig era.
In Europe, by contrast, one reason why there's no politically significant pro-life movement is because, in a world where constitutions have the life expectancy of an Oldsmobile, great questions are just seen as part of the general tide, the way things are going, no sense trying to fight it. And, by the time you realize you have to, the tide's usually up to your neck.
So Americans should be thankful they have one of the last functioning nation-states. Europeans, because they've been so inept at exercising it, no longer believe in national sovereignty, whereas it would never occur to Americans not to. This profoundly different attitude to the nation-state underpins, in turn, Euro-American attitudes to transnational institutions such as the United Nations.
But on this Thanksgiving the rest of the world ought to give thanks to American national sovereignty, too. When something terrible and destructive happens – a tsunami hits Indonesia, an earthquake devastates Pakistan – the United States can project itself anywhere on the planet within hours and start saving lives, setting up hospitals and restoring the water supply.
Aside from Britain and France, the Europeans cannot project power in any meaningful way anywhere. When they sign on to an enterprise they claim to believe in – shoring up Afghanistan's fledgling post-Taliban democracy – most of them send token forces under constrained rules of engagement that prevent them doing anything more than manning the photocopier back at the base.
If America were to follow the Europeans and maintain only shriveled attenuated residual military capacity, the world would very quickly be nastier and bloodier, and far more unstable. It's not just Americans and Iraqis and Afghans who owe a debt of thanks to the U.S. soldier but all the Europeans grown plump and prosperous in a globalized economy guaranteed by the most benign hegemon in history.
That said, Thanksgiving isn't about the big geopolitical picture, but about the blessings closer to home. Last week, the state of Oklahoma celebrated its centennial, accompanied by rousing performances of Rodgers and Hammerstein's eponymous anthem:
"We know we belong to the land
And the land we belong to is grand!"
Which isn't a bad theme song for the first Thanksgiving, either.
Three hundred and 14 years ago, the Pilgrims thanked God because there was a place for them in this land, and it was indeed grand. The land is grander today, and that, too, is remarkable: France has lurched from Second Empires to Fifth Republics struggling to devise a lasting constitutional settlement for the same smallish chunk of real estate, but the principles that united a baker's dozen of East Coast colonies were resilient enough to expand across a continent and halfway around the globe to Hawaii.
Americans should, as always, be thankful this Thanksgiving, but they should also understand just how rare in human history their blessings are.
This fair land
Reply #1 on:
November 21, 2007, 09:56:43 AM »
And the Fair Land
November 21, 2007; Page A18
Any one whose labors take him into the far reaches of the country, as ours lately have done, is bound to mark how the years have made the land grow fruitful.
This is indeed a big country, a rich country, in a way no array of figures can measure and so in a way past belief of those who have not seen it. Even those who journey through its Northeastern complex, into the Southern lands, across the central plains and to its Western slopes can only glimpse a measure of the bounty of America.
And a traveler cannot but be struck on his journey by the thought that this country, one day, can be even greater. America, though many know it not, is one of the great underdeveloped countries of the world; what it reaches for exceeds by far what it has grasped.
So the visitor returns thankful for much of what he has seen, and, in spite of everything, an optimist about what his country might be. Yet the visitor, if he is to make an honest report, must also note the air of unease that hangs everywhere.
For the traveler, as travelers have been always, is as much questioned as questioning. And for all the abundance he sees, he finds the questions put to him ask where men may repair for succor from the troubles that beset them.
His countrymen cannot forget the savage face of war. Too often they have been asked to fight in strange and distant places, for no clear purpose they could see and for no accomplishment they can measure. Their spirits are not quieted by the thought that the good and pleasant bounty that surrounds them can be destroyed in an instant by a single bomb. Yet they find no escape, for their survival and comfort now depend on unpredictable strangers in far-off corners of the globe.
How can they turn from melancholy when at home they see young arrayed against old, black against white, neighbor against neighbor, so that they stand in peril of social discord. Or not despair when they see that the cities and countryside are in need of repair, yet find themselves threatened by scarcities of the resources that sustain their way of life. Or when, in the face of these challenges, they turn for leadership to men in high places -- only to find those men as frail as any others.
So sometimes the traveler is asked whence will come their succor. What is to preserve their abundance, or even their civility? How can they pass on to their children a nation as strong and free as the one they inherited from their forefathers? How is their country to endure these cruel storms that beset it from without and from within?
Of course the stranger cannot quiet their spirits. For it is true that everywhere men turn their eyes today much of the world has a truly wild and savage hue. No man, if he be truthful, can say that the specter of war is banished. Nor can he say that when men or communities are put upon their own resources they are sure of solace; nor be sure that men of diverse kinds and diverse views can live peaceably together in a time of troubles.
But we can all remind ourselves that the richness of this country was not born in the resources of the earth, though they be plentiful, but in the men that took its measure. For that reminder is everywhere -- in the cities, towns, farms, roads, factories, homes, hospitals, schools that spread everywhere over that wilderness.
We can remind ourselves that for all our social discord we yet remain the longest enduring society of free men governing themselves without benefit of kings or dictators. Being so, we are the marvel and the mystery of the world, for that enduring liberty is no less a blessing than the abundance of the earth.
And we might remind ourselves also, that if those men setting out from Delftshaven had been daunted by the troubles they saw around them, then we could not this autumn be thankful for a fair land.
This editorial has appeared annually since 1961.
The Desolate Wilderness
November 21, 2007; Page A18
Here beginneth the chronicle of those memorable circumstances of the year 1620, as recorded by Nathaniel Morton, keeper of the records of Plymouth Colony, based on the account of William Bradford, sometime governor thereof:
So they left that goodly and pleasant city of Leyden, which had been their resting-place for above eleven years, but they knew that they were pilgrims and strangers here below, and looked not much on these things, but lifted up their eyes to Heaven, their dearest country, where God hath prepared for them a city (Heb. XI, 16), and therein quieted their spirits.
When they came to Delfs-Haven they found the ship and all things ready, and such of their friends as could not come with them followed after them, and sundry came from Amsterdam to see them shipt, and to take their leaves of them. One night was spent with little sleep with the most, but with friendly entertainment and Christian discourse, and other real expressions of true Christian love.
The next day they went on board, and their friends with them, where truly doleful was the sight of that sad and mournful parting, to hear what sighs and sobs and prayers did sound amongst them; what tears did gush from every eye, and pithy speeches pierced each other's heart, that sundry of the Dutch strangers that stood on the Key as spectators could not refrain from tears. But the tide (which stays for no man) calling them away, that were thus loath to depart, their Reverend Pastor, falling down on his knees, and they all with him, with watery cheeks commended them with the most fervent prayers unto the Lord and His blessing; and then with mutual embraces and many tears they took their leaves one of another, which proved to be the last leave to many of them.
Being now passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before them in expectations, they had now no friends to welcome them, no inns to entertain or refresh them, no houses, or much less towns, to repair unto to seek for succour; and for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of the country know them to be sharp and violent, subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search unknown coasts.
Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wilde beasts and wilde men? and what multitudes of them there were, they then knew not: for which way soever they turned their eyes (save upward to Heaven) they could have but little solace or content in respect of any outward object; for summer being ended, all things stand in appearance with a weatherbeaten face, and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hew.
If they looked behind them, there was a mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a main bar or gulph to separate them from all the civil parts of the world.
This editorial has appeared annually since 1961.
Last Edit: November 21, 2007, 10:06:00 AM by Crafty_Dog
Reply #2 on:
November 21, 2007, 10:18:08 AM »
And one more:
“Tomorrow being the day set apart by the Honorable Congress for public Thanksgiving and Praise; and duty calling us devoutly to express our grateful acknowledgements to God for the manifold blessings he has granted us, the General... earnestly exhorts, all officers and soldiers, whose absence is not indispensably necessary, to attend with reverence the solemnities of the day.” —George Washington (December 17, 1777)
The necessity of Thanksgiving
In this era of overblown political correctness, we often hear tales of Thanksgiving that stray far afield from the truth. Contemporary textbook narratives of the first American harvest celebration portray the Pilgrim colonists as having given thanks to their Indian neighbors for teaching them how to survive in a strange new world. This, of course, is in stark contrast to the historical record, in which the colonists gave thanks to God Almighty, the Provider of their blessings.
The “First Thanksgiving” is usually depicted as the Pilgrims’ three-day feast in early November 1621. The Pilgrims, Calvinist Protestants who rejected the institutional Church of England, believed that the worship of God must originate freely in the individual soul, under no coercion. The Pilgrims left Plymouth, England, on 6 September 1620, sailing to the New World on the promise of opportunity for religious and civil liberty.
For almost three months, 102 seafarers braved the brutal elements, arriving off what is now the Massachusetts coast. On 11 December, before disembarking at Plymouth Rock, the voyagers signed the Mayflower Compact, America’s original document of civil government predicated on principles of self-government. While still anchored at Provincetown harbor, Pastor John Robinson counseled, “You are become a body politic... and are to have only them for your... governors which yourselves shall make choice of.” Governor William Bradford described the Mayflower Compact as “a combination... that when they came a shore they would use their owne libertie; for none had power to command them...”
Upon landing, the Pilgrims conducted a prayer service and quickly turned to building shelters. Malnutrition and illness during the ensuing New England winter killed nearly half their number. Through prayer and hard work, with the assistance of their Wampanoag Indian friends, the Pilgrims reaped a rich harvest in the summer of 1621, the bounty of which they shared with the Wampanoag. The celebration incorporated feasting and games, which remain holiday traditions.
Such ready abundance soon waned, however. Under demands from investors funding their endeavor, the Pilgrims had acquiesced to a disastrous arrangement holding all crops and property in common, in order to return an agreed-to half of their produce to their overseas backers. (These financiers insisted they could not trust faraway freeholders to split the colony’s profits honestly.) Within two years, Plymouth was in danger of foundering under famine, blight and drought. Colonist Edward Winslow wrote, “The most courageous were now discouraged, because God, which hitherto had been our only shield and supporter, now seemed in his anger to arm himself against us.”
Governor Bradford’s record of the history of the colony describes 1623 as a period of arduous work coupled with “a great drought... without any rain and with great heat for the most part,” lasting from spring until midsummer. The Plymouth settlers followed the Wampanoag’s recommended cultivation practices carefully, but their crops withered.
The Pilgrims soon thereafter thought better of relying solely on the physical realm, setting “a solemn day of humiliation, to seek the Lord by humble and fervent prayer, in this great distress.” In affirmation of their faith and providing a great witness to the Indians, by evening of that day the skies became overcast and gentle rains fell, restoring the yield of the fields. Governor Bradford noted, “And afterwards the Lord sent to them such seasonable showers, with interchange of fair warm weather as, through His blessing caused a fruitful and liberal harvest, to their no small comfort and rejoicing. For which mercy, in time convenient, they also set apart a day of thanksgiving.”
Winslow noted the Pilgrims’ reaction as believing “it would be great ingratitude, if secretly we should smother up the same, or content ourselves with private thanksgiving for that, which by private prayer could not be obtained. And therefore another solemn day was set apart and appointed for that end; wherein we returned glory, honor, and praise, with all thankfulness, to our good God, which dealt so graciously with us...” This was the original American Thanksgiving Day, centered not on harvest feasting (as in 1621) but on gathering together to publicly recognize the favor and provision of Almighty God.
Bradford’s diary recounts how the colonists repented of their financial folly under sway of their financiers: “At length, after much debate of things, the Governor (with the advice of the chiefest amongst them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves; in all other things to go in the general way as before. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number.”
By the mid-17th century, autumnal Thanksgivings were common throughout New England; observance of Thanksgiving Festivals spread to other colonies during the American Revolution. At other junctures of “great distress” or miraculous intervention, colonial leaders called their countrymen to offer prayerful thanks to God. The Continental Congresses, cognizant of the need for a warring country’s continuing grateful entreaties to God, proclaimed yearly Thanksgiving days during the Revolutionary War, from 1777 to 1783.
In 1789, after adopting the Bill of Rights to the Constitution, among the first official acts of Congress was approving a motion for proclamation of a national day of thanksgiving, recommending that citizens gather together and give thanks to God for their new nation’s blessings. Presidents George Washington, John Adams and James Madison followed the custom of declaring national days of thanks, though it was not officially declared again until another moment of national peril, when during the War Between the States Abraham Lincoln invited “the whole American people” to observe “a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father... with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience.” In 1941, Congress set permanently November’s fourth Thursday as our official national Thanksgiving.
The Pilgrims’ temporary folly of sundering and somersaulting the material as transcendent over the spiritual conveys an important lesson that modern histories are reluctant to tell. The Founders, recognizing this, placed first among constitutionally recognized rights the free exercise of religion—faith through action.
If what we seek is a continuance of God s manifold blessings, then a day of heartfelt thanksgiving is a tiny tribute indeed.
This Thanksgiving, please pray for our Patriot Armed Forces standing in harm’s way around the world, and for their families—especially the families of those fallen Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who have died in defense of American liberty.
On behalf of your Patriot staff and National Advisory Committee, we wish God’s peace and blessings upon you and yours this Thanksgiving.
Semper Vigilo, Fortis, Paratus, et Fidelis!
Permission granted to
Reply #3 on:
November 22, 2010, 07:15:14 PM »
"Two hundred years ago, the Congress of the United States issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation stating that it was 'the indispensable duty of all nations' to offer both praise and supplication to God. Above all other nations of the world, America has been especially blessed and should give special thanks. We have bountiful harvests, abundant freedoms, and a strong, compassionate people. I have always believed that this anointed land was set apart in an uncommon way, that a divine plan placed this great continent here between the oceans to be found by people from every corner of the Earth who had a special love of faith and freedom. Our pioneers asked that He would work His will in our daily lives so America would be a land of morality, fairness, and freedom. Today we have more to be thankful for than our pilgrim mothers and fathers who huddled on the edge of the New World that first Thanksgiving Day could ever dream. We should be grateful not only for our blessings, but for the courage and strength of our ancestors which enable us to enjoy the lives we do today. Let us reaffirm through prayers and actions our thankfulness for America's bounty and heritage." --Ronald Reagan
Had BO been at Plymouth Rock , , ,
Reply #4 on:
November 24, 2010, 05:45:46 PM »
Had today's political class been in power in 1623, tomorrow's holiday would have been called "Starvation Day" instead of Thanksgiving. Of course, most of us wouldn't be alive to celebrate it.
Every year around this time, schoolchildren are taught about that wonderful day when Pilgrims and Native Americans shared the fruits of the harvest. But the first Thanksgiving in 1623 almost didn't happen.
Long before the failure of modern socialism, the earliest European settlers gave us a dramatic demonstration of the fatal flaws of collectivism. Unfortunately, few Americans today know it.
The Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony organized their farm economy along communal lines. The goal was to share the work and produce equally.
That's why they nearly all starved.
When people can get the same return with less effort, most people make less effort. Plymouth settlers faked illness rather than working the common property. Some even stole, despite their Puritan convictions. Total production was too meager to support the population, and famine resulted. This went on for two years.
"So as it well appeared that famine must still ensue the next year also, if not some way prevented," wrote Gov. William Bradford in his diary. The colonists, he said, "began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. At length after much debate of things, (I) (with the advice of the chiefest among them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land."
In other words, the people of Plymouth moved from socialism to private farming. The results were dramatic.
"This had very good success," Bradford wrote, "for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been. By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many."
Because of the change, the first Thanksgiving could be held in November 1623.
What Plymouth suffered under communalism was what economists today call the tragedy of the commons. The problem has been known since ancient Greece. As Aristotle noted, "That which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it."
If individuals can take from a common pot regardless of how much they put in it, each person has an incentive to be a free-rider, to do as little as possible and take as much as possible because what one fails to take will be taken by someone else. Soon, the pot is empty.
What private property does -- as the Pilgrims discovered -- is connect effort to reward, creating an incentive for people to produce far more. Then, if there's a free market, people will trade their surpluses to others for the things they lack. Mutual exchange for mutual benefit makes the community richer.
Here's the biggest irony of all: The U.S. government has yet to apply the lesson to its first conquest: Native Americans. The U.S. government has held most Indian land in trust since the 19th century. This discourages initiative and risk-taking because, among other reasons, it can't be used as collateral for loans. On Indian reservations, "private land is 40 to 90 percent more productive than land owned through the Bureau of Indian Affairs," says economist Terry Anderson, executive director of PERC. "If you drive through western reservations, you will see on one side cultivated fields, irrigation, and on the other side, overgrazed pasture, run-down pastures and homes. One is a simple commons; the other side is private property. You have Indians on both sides. The important thing is someone owns one side."
Secure property rights are the key. When producers know their future products are safe from confiscation, they take risks and invest. But when they fear they will be deprived of the fruits of their labor, they will do as little as possible.
That's the lost lesson of Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving from Wesbury
Reply #5 on:
November 23, 2015, 04:21:22 PM »
If the US were in the middle of an economic boom, like in the mid-1980s or late-1990s, it would be very easy to be thankful in the week ahead. Instead, a cornucopia of complaints seems to accompany what has been a plodding economic recovery, what we call the Plow Horse Economy.
But that’s why it’s even more important than ever to be thankful for the things that are going right with the US economy. In particular, even as our overly large government continues to grow larger, with more spending, more entitlements, and more regulation – all of which bog down the economic growth rate like mud in the fields. It has been a battle between entrepreneurs and their wealth creation, versus government and redistribution. So far, the entrepreneurs have kept the economy moving forward.
Think of all the massive changes in the past several years. As it turns out, we really can drill our way to lower energy prices. Ubiquitous apps have made life much easier and increased productivity for workers, parents, students, travelers. And the list of new benefits seems to never end. Death rates for cancer patients are way down. Innovation in food production continues to soar. Driverless cars, while not here yet for regular consumers, continue to improve and wind their way down the long road toward mass production. It’s the cornucopia of invention we should celebrate.
Instead, it's monetary policy and the political world that journalists seem to obsess about; particularly those on business TV. These sources of “information,” or what could more accurately be called “econo-tainment,” instead dwell on every zig and zag of politics, and very often dubious narratives intricately woven by some short-seller.
But it’s because of the innovations, because of businesses that have found a way to charge ahead despite every obstacle put in front of them, the economy has moved forward.
In certain ways, this decade resembles the 1930s. Not in the sense that our economic situation is like the despair of the Great Depression; not even close. But in the sense that amid general dissatisfaction with the economy and a very bad policy set from Washington, important positive innovations were still happening. Jet engines, photocopiers, ballpoint pens, helicopters, and nylons were all invented in the 1930s, making life better for decades to come.
So when you pause to be thankful later this week, think for moment of the innovators who have been toiling away to make our lives better. Yes, they don’t do it just for the heck of it; yes, they want to enrich themselves along the way. But whether they help themselves or not, where would we be without their efforts? Happy Thanksgiving!
Reply #6 on:
November 23, 2015, 05:41:14 PM »
Is this where I go to find good Thanksgiving recipes to cook?
How communism almost killed the second Thanksgiving
Reply #7 on:
November 25, 2015, 02:01:41 PM »
History and Legacy of Thankgiving
Reply #8 on:
November 25, 2015, 05:02:03 PM »
The History and Legacy of Thanksgiving
"Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him and praise His name. For the LORD is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations." —Psalm 100:4-5
Thanksgiving, as introduced by European explorers and settlers in the "New World," was a time set aside specifically for the purpose of giving thanks to our Creator for His manifold blessings.
The earliest record of a thanksgiving in America is 1541 by Spanish explorer Coronado at Palo Duro Canyon in what is now Texas. French Protestant colonists at Charlesfort (now Parris Island, South Carolina) held a thanksgiving service in 1564. In 1607, the Jamestown settlers held thanksgiving at Cape Henry, Virginia, and there are many other records of such hallowed observances.
The first call for an annual Thanksgiving was at Berkeley Plantation, Virginia, in 1619, when Captain John Woodlief and 38 settlers aboard the ship Margaret, proclaimed, "Wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrivall at the place assigned for plantacion in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually keept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God."
But the contemporary celebration of Thanksgiving across our nation has its roots in the first "harvest feast" celebrated in 1621 by religious refugees, Pilgrims, who established the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts, in the year 1620. According to the fact that most history books following the War Between the States were written by Northern historians, it is that iconic event which is most directly associated with the current traditions for our national Day of Thanksgiving.
Who were these "freedom men"?
They were Puritan "separatists" -- Calvinist Protestants, most under the leadership of pastor John Robinson, church elder William Brewster, and William Bradford. They rejected the institutional Church of England, believing that worshipping God must originate freely in the individual soul, without coercion.
Suffering persecution and imprisonment in England for their beliefs, these separatists fled to Holland in 1608. There, they found the spiritual liberty they sought, but amid a disjointed economy and a dissolute, degraded, corrupt culture that tempted their children to stray from faith. Determined to protect their families from such spiritual and cultural degradation, the Pilgrims returned to Plymouth, England, where they arranged for passage to the New World.
Their long and dangerous voyage was funded by the London Company, the "merchant adventurers" (investors) whose objective was to establish a communal plantation "company" upon which the "planters" would be obligated to work for seven years in order to return the investment with premium. "The adventurers & planters do agree that every person that goeth being aged 16 years & upward ... be accounted a single share.... The persons transported & ye adventurers shall continue their joint stock & partnership together, ye space of 7 years ... during which time, all profits & benefits that are got by trade, traffic, trucking, working, fishing, or any other means of any person or persons, remain still in ye common stock.... That all such persons as are of this colony, are to have their meat, drink, apparel, and all provision out of ye common stock & goods.... That at ye end of ye 7 years, ye capital & profits, viz. the houses, lands, goods and chattels, be equally divided betwixt ye adventurers, and planters."
On September 6th, 1620, aboard a 100 foot ship named Mayflower, 102 Pilgrims and 30 crew members departed for America, a place that offered the promise of both civil and religious liberty. Among those in command of the expedition were Christopher Martin, designated by the Merchant Adventurers to act as Governor, and Myles Standish, who would be the colony's military leader.
After an arduous eight week journey, on November 11 they dropped anchor at Provincetown Harbor off the coast of what is now Massachusetts.
On 11 December 1620, prior to disembarking at Plymouth Rock, they signed the Mayflower Compact, America's original document of civil government. It was the first to introduce self-government, and the foundation on which the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were built. Plymouth Colony's Governor, William Bradford, described the Compact as "a combination ... that when they came a shore they would use their owne libertie; for none had power to command them."
The First Harvest Thanksgiving Feast
Upon making landfall, the Pilgrims conducted a prayer service and quickly turned to building shelters. They committed all their belongings to a "comone wealth." Under harrowing conditions, the colonists persisted through prayer and hard work, but the Winter of 1621 was devastating and only 53 of the original party survived. William Bradford wrote, "of these one hundred persons who came over in this first ship together, the greatest half died in the general mortality, and most of them in two or three months' time."
However, with the help of the indigenous "Indians" in the region, the summer of 1621 was productive as recorded by Bradford in his diary: "They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck a meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to the proportion."
In addition to their regular expressions of reverence and thanksgiving to God, by the Autumn of 1621 the surviving 53 Pilgrims had enough produce to hold a three day "harvest feast." That feast was described in the journal of Edward Winslow: "Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which we brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."
The Pilgrims endured another harsh winter, but had put up enough stores to survive.
The Collectivist Plantation Plan
Endeavoring to improve the production at Plymouth Plantation for its second growing season in 1622, Governor Bradford implemented a collectivist policy, and noted that to increase production, he allotted each family a plot of land, and mandated that "all profits & benefits that are got by trade, working, fishing, or any other means" must be forfeited to a common storehouse in order that "all such persons as are of this colony, are to have their meat, drink, apparel, and all provisions out of the common stock."
In theory, their Governor thought the colony would thrive because each family would receive equal share of produce without regard to their contribution. Unfortunately, then as always, collectivism only works in theory, and the new policy almost destroyed the Plymouth settlement. Indeed, collectivism is antithetical to human nature, and destined to fail, as Plato's student Aristotle observed in 350 BC: "That which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it." But to this day, many still fail to grasp the "tragedy of the commons."
After abysmal results in 1622, Bradford realized that his collectivist plan had undermined the incentive to produce. He wrote, "The failure of that experiment of communal service ... the taking away of private property, and the possession of it in community, by a commonwealth ... was found to breed much confusion and discontent; and retard much employment which would have been to the general benefit.... For the young men who were most able and fit for service objected to being forced to spend their time and strength in working for other men's wives and children, without any recompense.... The strong man or the resourceful man had no more share of food, clothes, etc., than the weak man who was not able to do a quarter the other could. This was thought injustice. The aged and graver men, who were ranked and equalized in labor, food, clothes, etc., with the humbler and younger ones, thought it some indignity and disrespect to them."
The women "who were obliged to do service for other men, such as cooking, washing their clothes, etc., they considered it a kind of slavery, and many husbands would not brook it...."
"If all were to share alike, and all were to do alike," wrote Bradford, "then all were on an equality throughout, and one was as good as another; and so, if it did not actually abolish those very relations which God himself has set among men, it did at least greatly diminish the mutual respect that is so important should be preserved amongst them. Let none argue that this is due to human failing, rather than to this communistic plan of life in itself...."
The Free Enterprise Plan
Responding to the failed economic plantation plan, the Colony leaders "began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery," Bradford recorded in his journal. "At length after much debate of things, (I) (with the advice of the chiefest among them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land."
They decided to trade their collectivist plan for a free market approach, and in 1623, Bradford wrote, "This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any other means the Governor or any other could use. ... Women went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn. Instead of famine now God gave them plenty and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many. ... Any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day."
Property ownership and families freely laboring on their own behalf replaced the "common store," but only after their ill-advised experiment with communism nearly wiped out the entire settlement.
The Colony celebrated a much greater Harvest and Thanksgiving Day in 1623 as called for by Bradford's proclamation:
"Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as he has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience. Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings."
After the Pilgrims were given liberty and incentive to be industrious, the Colony thrived, and by 1624, production was so abundant that the Colony exported corn back to England. For generations since, to the extent men have been set at perfect liberty to establish free enterprise, to produce goods and services without having profits seized for redistribution, our nation has thrived.
The Pilgrims' Legacy of Civil Liberty
The Puritans seeded democratic self government and free enterprise in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but demonstrated much of the same religious intolerance they had fled in England. Having broken ground for religious Liberty, at least for themselves, in the 20 years following the establishment of Plymouth Plantation, more than 25,000 men, women and children followed them to the New World, seeking first and foremost, religious Liberty. The second great immigration of Puritans came after Charles II was restored to the Crown in 1660, and Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan reformists fled for their lives. They brought with them a much more legalistic religious intolerance, and displayed bigotry for those who did not practice there particular Christian traditions and practices.
However, the promise of civil and religious Liberty drew hundreds of thousands of other seekers to east coast settlements, and they formed the bedrock of our nation. The crossroads of civil and religious Liberty was outlined in the central tenant of our Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
That eternal truth is the basis for the enumerated restrictions against government outlined in the First Amendment of our Constitution's Bill of Rights: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." The prohibition against any "establishment of religion" appears first in order of importance, because our nation was largely founded by those seeking Liberty from oppression of the wedded church and state of England.
Though we are not a "Christian nation" as some would suggest, clearly most of our Founders understood that American Liberty has its roots in the Liberty of the Christian Gospel. The Father of our Country, George Washington, wrote, "To the distinguished Character of Patriot, it should be our highest Glory to add the more distinguished Character of Christian. The signal Instances of providential Goodness which we have experienced and which have now almost crowned our labours with complete Success, demand from us in a peculiar manner the warmest returns of Gratitude and Piety to the Supreme Author of all Good."
Historic American Thanksgiving Proclamations
During the American Revolutionary War the Continental Congress designated days of thanksgiving each year. The First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving was made in 1777:
"FOR AS MUCH as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for Benefits received, and to implore such farther Blessings as they stand in Need of: And it having pleased him in his abundant Mercy, not only to continue to us the innumerable Bounties of his common Providence; but also to smile upon us in the Prosecution of a just and necessary War, for the Defense and Establishment of our unalienable Rights and Liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased, in so great a Measure, to prosper the Means used for the Support of our Troops, and to crown our Arms with most signal success: It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive Powers of these UNITED STATES to set apart THURSDAY, the eighteenth Day of December next, for SOLEMN THANKSGIVING and PRAISE: That at one Time and with one Voice, the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor; and that, together with their sincere Acknowledgments and Offerings, they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins, whereby they had forfeited every Favor; and their humble and earnest Supplication that it may please GOD through the Merits of JESUS CHRIST, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of Remembrance; That it may please him graciously to afford his Blessing on the Governments of these States respectively, and prosper the public Council of the whole: To inspire our Commanders, both by Land and Sea, and all under them, with that Wisdom and Fortitude which may render them fit Instruments, under the Providence of Almighty GOD, to secure for these United States, the greatest of all human Blessings, INDEPENDENCE and PEACE: That it may please him, to prosper the Trade and Manufactures of the People, and the Labor of the Husbandman, that our Land may yield its Increase: To take Schools and Seminaries of Education, so necessary for cultivating the Principles of true Liberty, Virtue and Piety, under his nurturing Hand; and to prosper the Means of Religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that Kingdom, which consisteth in Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Ghost."
Of that proclamation, Samuel Adams wrote to another Declaration signer, Richard Henry Lee, noting the specificity of the language that, "the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts and join ... their supplication that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ."
In 1789, after adopting the Bill of Rights to our Constitution, among the first official acts of Congress was approving a motion for proclamation of a national day of thanksgiving, recommending that citizens gather together and give thanks to God for their new nation's blessings.
The first Thanksgiving Day designated by the United States of America was proclaimed by George Washington on October 3, 1789:
"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.
"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. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
"And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
"Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789."
Then-governor Thomas Jefferson followed with this 1789 proclamation in Virginia: "
appoint ... a day of public Thanksgiving to Almighty God ... to [ask] Him that He would ... pour out His Holy Spirit on all ministers of the Gospel; that He would ... spread the light of Christian knowledge through the remotest corners of the earth; and that He would establish these United States upon the basis of religion and virtue."
Governor John Hancock proclaimed, "
appoint ... a day of public thanksgiving and praise ... to render to God the tribute of praise for His unmerited goodness towards us ... [by giving to] us ... the Holy Scriptures which are able to enlighten and make us wise to eternal salvation. And [to] present our supplications ... that He would forgive our manifold sins and cause the benign religion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to be known, understood, and practiced among all the inhabitants of the earth."
Thanksgiving celebrations were irregularly proclaimed in the years that followed until the War Between the States. After 1863, presidents issued annual proclamations of Thanksgiving.
Norman Rockwell, 1943
In 1941, with World War II on the horizon, the Senate and House approved the fourth Thursday of November as a National Day of Thanksgiving, perpetuating the observance annually.
Thanksgiving and our Legacy of Liberty
Appropriately crediting the Pilgrims for chartering the path of American Liberty through self government, President Ronald Reagan made frequent reference to John Winthrop's "shining city upon a hill."
As Reagan explained, "The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we'd call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free."
Closing his farewell address in 1989, President Reagan asked, "And how stands the city on this winter night?"
Contemplating our Legacy of Liberty this Thanksgiving, more than two decades after President Reagan left office, how stands the city on our watch?
My fellow Patriots, never in the history of our country has there been such an acute, coordinated and vicious assault upon Liberty and the Rule of Law enshrined in our Constitution. From individuals, to state governments, to federal institutions initiated at the dawn of our Constitution, nothing, absolutely nothing, is sacred to the current statist hegemony seeking to dispense with our Constitution.
But take heart, for as George Washington wrote in the darkest days of our American Revolution, "We should never despair, our Situation before has been unpromising and has changed for the better, so I trust, it will again. If new difficulties arise, we must only put forth new Exertions and proportion our Efforts to the exigency of the times."
Of such exertions, Washington wrote, "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 favors."
Of the incredible obstacles overcome in the American Revolution to establish Liberty, Washington declared, "The hand of providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations."
So it is that on Thanksgiving Day, we are called to pause and take respite in order to acknowledge the gift of Liberty as "endowed by our Creator," and the Divine intervention throughout the history of this great nation; in order to recommit ourselves to obeisance of His will; in order to express our gratitude and give Him all thanks and praise for the bounty which He has bestowed the United States of America -- land of the free, home of the brave, that shining city on the hill; and in order to all the more humbly implore that He protect us and grant us much favor in our coming struggle to re-establish Rule of Law over rule of men.
In his first Thanksgiving proclamation, President Reagan wrote: "America has much for which to be thankful. The unequaled freedom enjoyed by our citizens has provided a harvest of plenty to this Nation throughout its history. In keeping with America's heritage, one day each year is set aside for giving thanks to God for all of His blessings. ... As we celebrate Thanksgiving ... We should reflect on the full meaning of this day as we enjoy the fellowship that is so much a part of the holiday festivities. Searching our hearts, we should ask what we can do as individuals to demonstrate our gratitude to God for all He has done. Such reflection can only add to the significance of this precious day of remembrance. Let us recommit ourselves to that devotion to God and family that has played such an important role in making this a great Nation, and which will be needed as a source of strength if we are to remain a great people.
This is the genuine spirit of Thanksgiving.
I humbly thank you for the honor and privilege of serving you as editor and publisher of The Patriot Post. On behalf of your Patriot team and our National Advisory Committee, I wish you a peaceful Thanksgiving, and God's blessings to you and your family.
If you have the means, please take a moment to promote Liberty by supporting our Patriot Annual Campaign today.
Pro Deo et Constitutione — Libertas aut Mors
Semper Vigilo, Fortis, Paratus et Fidelis
Publisher, The Patriot Post
Take the Thanksgiving Quiz
For inspiration, read the text of Charlie Daniel's My Beautiful America or listen to the song.
For perspective, view "We still hold these truths."
(Note: The original version of this Thanksgiving account was published by Mark Alexander in November 2000. Please forward a link to this page to your family, friends and colleagues.)
The Geopolitics of Thanksgiving
Reply #9 on:
November 26, 2015, 06:52:18 PM »
Editor's Note: In light of the U.S. celebration of Thanksgiving, we are republishing this November 2014 piece explaining the geopolitical and historical context of the Plymouth colony.
The first winter took many of the English at Plymouth. By fall 1621, only 53 remained of the 132 who had arrived on the Mayflower. But those who had survived brought in a harvest. And so, in keeping with tradition, the governor called the living 53 together for a three-day harvest feast, joined by more than 90 locals from the Wampanoag tribe. The meal was a moment to recognize the English plantation's small step toward stability and, hopefully, profit. This was no small thing. A first, deadly year was common. Getting through it was an accomplishment. England's successful colony of Virginia had had a massive death toll — of the 8,000 arrivals between 1607 and 1625, only 15 percent lived.
But still the English came to North America and still government and business leaders supported them. This was not without reason. In the 17th century, Europe was in upheaval and England's place in it unsure. Moreover, England was going through a period of internal instability that would culminate in the unthinkable — civil war in 1642 and regicide in 1649. England's colonies were born from this situation, and the colonies of Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay and the little-known colony of Providence Island in the Caribbean were part of a broader Puritan geopolitical strategy to solve England's problems.
Throughout the first half of the 17th century, England was wracked by internal divisions that would lead to civil war in 1642. Religion was a huge part of this. The dispute was over the direction of the Church of England. Some factions favored "high" church practices that involved elaborate ritual. The Puritans, by contrast, wanted to clear the national religion of what they considered Catholic traces. This religious crisis compounded a political crisis at the highest levels of government, pitting Parliament against the monarchy.
By the beginning of the 17th century, England had undergone centralizing reforms that gave the king and his Parliament unrestricted power to make laws. Balance was needed. The king had the power to call Parliament into session and dismiss it. Parliament had the power to grant him vital funds needed for war or to pay down debt. However, Parliament had powerful Puritan factions that sought not only to advance their sectarian cause but also to advance the power of Parliament beyond its constraints. Kings James I and his son Charles I, for their part, sought to gain an unrestrained hold on power that would enable them to make decisive strategic choices abroad. They relied, internally and externally, on Catholics, crypto-Catholics and high church advocates — exacerbating the displeasure of Parliament.
Both kings continually fought with Parliament over funding for the monarchy's debt and for new ventures. Both dissolved Parliament several times; Charles ultimately did so for a full 11 years beginning in 1629.
Europe in 1600
Click to enlarge
Europe in 1600
Spain was England's major strategic problem on the Continent. Protestant England saw itself as under constant threat from the Catholic powers in Europe. This led to problems when the people came to see their leaders, James I and his son Charles, as insufficiently hostile to Spain and insufficiently committed to the Protestant cause on the Continent. In order to stop mounting debt, shortly after taking power James made the unpopular move of ending a war with Spain that England had been waging alongside the Netherlands since 1585. In 1618, the Thirty Years' War broke out in the German states — a war that, in part, pitted Protestants against Catholics and spread throughout Central Europe. James did not wish to become involved in the war. In 1620, the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II, a relative of Spain's King Philip III, pushed Frederick V, the Protestant son-in-law of England's King James, out of his lands in Bohemia, and Spain attacked Frederick in his other lands in the Rhineland. The English monarchy called for a defense of Frederick but was unwilling to commit to significant military action to aid him.
Puritan factions in Parliament, however, wanted England to strike at Spain directly by attacking Spanish shipments from the Americas, which could have paid for itself in captured goods. To make matters worse, from 1614 to 1623, James I pursued an unpopular plan to marry his son Charles to the Catholic daughter of Philip III of Spain — a plan called the "Spanish Match." Instead, Charles I ended up marrying the Catholic daughter of the king of France in 1625. This contributed to the impression that James and Charles were too friendly with Spain and Catholicism, or even were secret Catholics. Many Puritans and other zealous promoters of the Protestant cause began to feel that they had to look outside of the English government to further their cause.
Amid this complex constellation of Continental powers and England's own internal incoherence, a group of Puritan leaders in Parliament, who would later play a pivotal role in the English Civil War, focused on the geopolitical factors that were troubling England. Issues of finance and Spanish power were at the core. A group of them struck on the idea of establishing a set of Puritan colonial ventures in the Americas that would simultaneously serve to unseat Spain from her colonial empire and enrich England, tipping the geopolitical balance. In this they were continuing Elizabeth I's strategy of 1585, when she started a privateer war in the Atlantic and Caribbean to capture Spanish treasure ships bound from the Americas. Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay were part of this early vision, but they were both far too remote to challenge the Spanish, and the group believed that the area's climate precluded it from being a source of vast wealth from cash crops. New England, however, was safe from Spanish aggression and could serve as a suitable starting point for a colonial push into the heart of Spanish territory.
The Effects of Spanish Colonization
Spain's 1492 voyage to the Americas and subsequent colonization had changed Europe indelibly by the 17th century. It had complicated each nation's efforts to achieve a favorable balance of power. As the vanguard of settlement in the New World, Spain and Portugal were the clear winners. From their mines, especially the Spanish silver mine in Potosi, American precious metals began to flow into their government coffers in significant amounts beginning in 1520, with a major uptick after 1550. Traditionally a resource-poor and fragmented nation, Spain now had a reliable revenue source to pursue its global ambitions.
Click to enlarge
This new economic power added to Spain's already advantageous position. At a time when England, France and the Netherlands were internally divided between opposing sectarian groups, Spain was solidly Catholic. As a result of its unity, Spain's elites generally pursued a more coherent foreign policy. Moreover, Spain had ties across the Continent. Charles V was both king of Spain and Holy Roman emperor, making him the most powerful man of his era. He abdicated in 1556, two years before his death, and divided his territories among his heirs. His son, Philip II of Spain, and Charles' brother, Ferdinand I, inherited the divided dominions and retained their ties to each other, giving them power throughout the Continent and territory surrounding France.
Despite having no successful colonies until the beginning of the 17th century, England did see some major benefits from the discovery of the Americas. The addition of the Western Atlantic to Europe's map and the influx of trade goods from that direction fundamentally altered trade routes in Europe, shifting them from their previous intense focus on the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean to encompass an ocean on which England held a unique strategic position. The nearby Netherlands — recently free from Spain — enjoyed a similar position and, along with England, took a major new role in shipping. By the middle of the 17th century, the Dutch had a merchant fleet as large as all others combined in Europe and were competing for lands in the New World. Sweden, another major European naval power, also held a few possessions in North America and the Caribbean. (This led to curious events such as "New Sweden," a colony located along the Delaware River, falling under Dutch control in the 1650s and becoming part of the "New Netherlands.")
England's Drive Into the New World
In spite of its gains in maritime commerce, England was still far behind Spain and Portugal in the Americas. The Iberian nations had established a strong hold on South America, Central America and the southern portions of North America, including the Caribbean. Much of North America, however, remained relatively untouched. It did not possess the proven mineral wealth of the south but it had a wealth of natural capital — fisheries, timber, furs and expanses of fertile soil.
However, much of the population of the Americas was in a band in central Mexico, meaning that the vast pools of labor available to the Spanish and Portuguese were not present elsewhere in North America. Instead, England and other colonial powers would need to bring their own labor. They were at a demographic advantage in this regard. Since the 16th century, the Continent's population had exploded. The British Isles and Northwest Europe grew the most, with England expanding from 2.6 million in 1500 to around 5.6 million by 1650. By contrast, the eastern woodlands of North America in 1600 had around 200,000 inhabitants — the population of London. Recent catastrophic epidemics brought by seasonal European fishermen and traders further decimated the population, especially that of New England. The disaster directly benefited Plymouth, which was built on the site of the deserted town of Patuxet and used native cleared and cultivated land.
After its founding in 1620, Plymouth was alone in New England for a decade and struggled to become profitable. It was the first foothold, however, for a great Puritan push into the region. In time, this push would subsume the tiny separatist colony within the larger sphere of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. This new colony's numbers were much higher: The first wave in 1630 brought 700 English settlers to Salem, and by 1640 there were 11,000 living in the region.
Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay were different from nearby Virginia. Virginia was initially solely a business venture, and its colonists provided the manpower. New England, by contrast, was a settler society of families from the start. Both Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay were started by English Puritans — Christian sectarians critical of the state-run Church of England. Plymouth's settlers were Puritan separatists who wanted no connection to England. Massachusetts Bay's colonists were non-separatist Puritans who believed in reforming the church. For both, creating polities in North America furthered their sectarian political goals. The pilgrims wanted to establish a separate godly society to escape persecution; the Puritans of Salem wanted to establish a beacon that would serve to change England by example. Less known, however, is that the financial backers of the New England colonies had a more ambitious goal of which New England was only the initial phase.
In this plan, Massachusetts was to provide profit to its investors, but it was also to serve as a way station from which they could then send settlers to a small colony they simultaneously founded on Providence Island off the Miskito Coast of modern Nicaragua. This island, now part of Colombia, was in the heart of the Spanish Caribbean and was meant to alter the geopolitics of Central America and bring it under English control. It was in this way that they hoped to solve England's geostrategic problems on the Continent and advance their own political agenda.
Providence was an uninhabited island in an area where the Spanish had not established deep roots. The island was a natural fortress, with a coral reef that made approach difficult and high, craggy rocks that helped in defense. It also had sheltered harbors and pockets of fertile land that could be used for production of food and cash crops.
It would serve, in their mind, as the perfect first foothold for England in the lucrative tropical regions of the Americas, from which it could trade with nearby native polities. In the short run, Providence was a base of operations, but in the long run it was to be a launchpad for an ambitious project to unseat Spain in the Americas and take Central America for England. In keeping with Puritan ideals, Providence was to be the same sort of "godly" society as Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth, just a more profitable one. Providence Island would enable the English to harry Spanish ships, bring in profit to end disputes with the crown and bolster the Protestant position in the Thirty Years' War.
But while Massachusetts Bay would succeed, Providence would fail utterly. Both Massachusetts Bay and Providence Island received their first shipment of Puritan settlers in 1630. Providence was expected to yield immense profits, while Massachusetts was expected to be a tougher venture. Both were difficult, but Providence's constraints proved fatal. The island did not establish a cash crop economy and its attempts to trade with native groups on the mainland were not fruitful.
The island's geopolitical position in Spanish military territory meant that it needed to obsessively focus on security. This proved its downfall. After numerous attacks and several successful raids on Spanish trade on the coast, the investors decided in 1641 to initiate plans to move colonists down from Massachusetts Bay to Providence. Spanish forces received intelligence of this plan and took the island with a massive force, ending England's control.
The 1641 invasion ended English settlement on the island, which subsequently became a Spanish military depot. The Puritans left little legacy there. New England, however, flourished. It became, in time, the nearest replica of English political life outside of the British Isles and a key regional component of the Thirteen Colonies and, later, the United States. It was the center of an agricultural order based on individual farmers and families and later of the United States' early manufacturing power. England sorted out its internal turmoil not by altering its geopolitical position externally — a project that faced serious resource and geographical constraints — but through massive internal upheaval during the English Civil War.
The celebration of the fruits of the Plymouth Colony's brutal first year is the byproduct of England's struggle against Spain on the Continent and in the New World. Thus, the most celebrated meal in America comes with a side of geopolitics.
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