Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pilgrim's Story

In the early 17th century, the Church of England under King James I held total ecclesiastical and political authority in Great Britain. Anyone who opposed the church or the state, such as those who believed in freedom of worship, were heavily persecuted, often unto death. A group of separatists (believing the government should be separate from religion) fled to Holland and lived there as a community for 11 years. About 40 of them felt that living in the New World would give them the greatest freedom, so on August 1, 1620, they sailed on the Mayflower under the lead of William Bradford. While on the journey, Bradford set up an agreement, a contract, that established just and equal laws for every member of their new community, irrespective of their religious beliefs. This was the Mayflower Compact. The inspiration for this revolutionary document came from the lessons taught in the Old and New Testaments - the ancient Israelites were their example.

When the Pilgrims landed in New England in November, 1620, they were met with a cold, barren, desolate wilderness. During the first winter, one half of the Pilgrims died from cold, starvation and exposure. When Spring came, the Indians showed them how to plant corn, fish for cod, and skin beavers for warmth. Many people have been taught that the first Thanksgiving was a chance for the Pilgrims to thank the Indians for saving their lives. It was actually a devout expression of their faith and gratitude to their God, given in the tradition of both the Old and New Testaments.

What schools fail to teach is that the original compact by the Pilgrims called for everything they produced to go into a common store, and each member of the community was entitled to one common share. All the land they cleared and the houses they built belonged to community as a whole. They had formed a collective, a socialist society, where everything was owned in common and the fruits of their labors were shared in common. The result of this experiment was failure. 

Bradford discovered that the most intelligent and industrious members of society had no incentive to create or work any harder than the least productive members. Bradford wrote that “this community was found to breed much confusion and discontent.” Young men were reluctant to spend their time and strength working  for other men's wives and children without any recompense. They thought that was an injustice. The Pilgrims decided to scrap this style of government.

In its place, Bradford chose to unharness the power of free enterprise by embracing the capitalistic idea of private property. Every family was assigned its own plot of land and was permitted to market its own crops and products. The result of this new form of society was success. It made all hands industrious. Much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been. In no time the Pilgrims founds they could produce more food than they needed, so they set up trading posts and exchanged goods with the Indians. Their profits allowed them to pay off their debts to the merchants in London. Their success attracted more Europeans and began the “Great Puritan Migration.”

Thomas Hooker was one of those attracted to the new-found freedom and prosperity in the New World. He established his own community in Connecticut. This was the first full-fledged constitutional community and perhaps the most free society the world had ever known. Embodied in his community's foundation were principles such as strict limits on the powers of government, no taxation without representation, due process of law, trial by a jury of peers, and prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment.

The Pilgrims commitment to pluralism (diversity) and individual freedom were streamed into the form of government this great nation fashioned, a government unlike any other the world has ever known, one that cradled a society that has produced the greatest individual prosperity and freedom than any other. Our commitment to those same principles will allow freedom and prosperity to continue to flourish and to keep this nation the greatest on earth.