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Happy Thanksgiving 2012 to Americans and Brits

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Painting of the Mayflower by Mike Haywood. This post is revised and republished every year.

The 102 men, women, and children who left Plymouth in September 1620 to sail west across the Atlantic crowded into a 100-foot boat with clothing, food, ploughs, guns, and a spaniel and a mastiff. The dogs would prove the difference between life and death.

Many of the pilgrims slept on the Mayflower's deck, sheltering under rowboats as they headed into the Atlantic's equinoctial gales. Halfway across, storms cracked a main beam, and almost sank the ship. They made the necessary repairs, and plowed on, not toward civilization, but toward a wild, unknown land. They had compelling reasons.

A Compact

They had decided to fling themselves on the mercy of the waves, and sail to America because they wanted freedom of religion and freedom of speech and freedom of action the way a starving man wants bread. They intended to share Christ's Gospel. They longed to retain their English language and ancient liberties.

The ancient liberties they loved were freedom of speech and action, which had come under attack, representative government, and a Common Law which was just to every person. These customs and liberties, perhaps more accurately called ideals, had not been perfectly realized in England, but they had their birth there and they had many passionate defenders.

By late November, the Mayflower pilgrims had been wracked by the seas for two months, and they decided to land wherever they could. But desperate though they were, the wintry desolation of Cape Cod on America's eastern seaboard took them aback. They realized 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 bound themselves to cooperation and self-government under majority rule. Their agreement to make decisions democratically was remarkable. It's still remarkable today.

The Covenant

They didn’t churn out turgid paragraphs because they knew they had to live according to the ethical commands of the Decalogue and Christ's teaching to love God and each other. Alfred the Great had placed the Decalogue at the beginning of the Common Law he established in the 9th century. The pilgrims were not in any doubt about the honesty, respect, and love which they were called to. Not surprisingly, they failed to be the loving, true people they were called to be.

This was not because they were not good enough - who, we humbly ask, is good enough? Partly it was because they were human and partly because in trying to be good they ignored a fundamental fact of human nature.

After they landed on the Cape, they fished and hunted for food with the help of the spaniel and mastiff. Everyone shared everything, but half the pilgrims died of malnutrition and exposure. They had such a difficult time because they had turned their backs on a source of English and American strength. It is the least-known aspect of their story.

The Indians brought them corn, but they had no immunity to the infectious diseases the new arrivals had unwittingly carried with them. Thousands died.

A turnaround

The pilgrims suffered because they had tried to create a system in which no-one owned property, and everything was shared. Alas! Sounds so nice, but those who worked hard supported those who liked to sit back and lounge. As you can imagine, this created problems.

It may sound crass, it doesn't sound like everyone bring something to the table and share, but what they needed was the fuel of competition and individual gain. Out of the energy of the free market people are fed, and choose to help those who are down on their luck. This is the truth, and the truth will set you free.

Rather than resisting reality, the pilgrims made changes. In 1623 they established a 'new' economic system based on incentives and private property. 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. Shocking. What you might ask was the role of government?

Government did not tell them how to make a living, did not insert innumerable regulations as stumbling blocks in their way, did not seize the hard-earned fruits of their labour in high taxes. Government upheld just law, and in time protected citizens from unfair business practices.

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 "great and 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.

Perhaps they recited Psalm 69, which begins Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul. . .They that hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of mine head, and concludes joyously, I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving. . .Let the heaven and earth praise Him, the seas, and every thing that moveth therein. . .The humble shall see this, and be glad: and your heart shall live that seek God.

More than a century later, in the darkest, most miserable days of the American Revolution, a great victory was won at Saratoga, and Sam Adams led Congress in declaring "a day of Thanksgiving" to God. That thanksgiving was accompanied by the prayer that all people under the yoke of tyranny would become free.

In 1789, 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….”

There are many adversities that trouble people today. Nevertheless, they persevere, and summon their courage to do good in the face of fear.

We thank all those who defend justice and freedom. For all that we have been given, we give thanks.

Thanks to Instapundit for the pilgrim link.

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