The Pilgrims and Thanksgiving

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 3rd, 2013

History 101

Queen Elizabeth hated the Puritans more than the Catholics

The Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock were God-fearing people.  Who had left England to escape religious persecution.  The Pilgrims were members of the new Protestant faith.  Less than a century old at that time.  With Henry VIII, King of England, turning Catholic England Protestant in the 1530s.  Which didn’t go over well with England’s Catholics.  Becoming a thorn in Henry’s daughter’s side.  Queen Elizabeth.  (The first Queen Elizabeth.  Not the current one.)  Who she persecuted.  But they weren’t the only people she persecuted.

The Church of England swung between Catholicism and Protestantism through the years.  Trying to please both Catholic and Protestant.  In time becoming neither Catholic nor Protestant but something in between.  Pleasing neither Catholic nor Protestant.  Queen Elizabeth, the head of the Church of England, settled the matter.  By persecuting those dissatisfied with the Church of England.  The Catholics who said it was too Protestant.  And the Protestant ‘extremists’ who said the Protest Church of England was too Catholic.

It was these Protestant ‘extremists’ that really irked Elizabeth.  No, the Church of England wasn’t good enough for them.  Because it didn’t strip every last vestige of Catholicism from it.  It was impure.  Corrupted with Catholicism.  Vestments.  Icons.  Altars.  It was just downright obscene.  That’s why she turned on these ‘Puritans’ with a vengeance.  And persecuted them like Catholics.  Even worse at times.

The Pilgrims suffered Three Years of Poor Harvests and Famines because of Socialism

Things didn’t get any better under James I.  Who followed Elizabeth’s lead.  With the political climate turning against the ‘Puritans’ they skedaddled.  Leaving England.  And resettled in Leiden, Holland.  Where they had the freedom to worship as they pleased.  But the different language and culture became a problem for the congregation.  Their children were becoming less like their parents and more like the Dutch.  Who enjoyed the pleasures in life a little more freely than they thought proper for a ‘Puritan’.  If their children became Dutch it would ultimately mean the end of the congregation.  So they boarded a ship.  No, not that one.  They took the Speedwell to England.  Then boarded THAT ship.  The Mayflower.  Crossed the Atlantic Ocean.  And landed at Plymouth Rock.

Now the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock were God-fearing people.  But they had a little in common with the hippies of the Sixties.  Not the sex and drugs.  But how they lived.  For the Pilgrims lived like the hippies wanted to live.  As communists.  The Pilgrims worked but didn’t own anything.  Everything they produced belonged to everyone.  Produced by those according to ability.  And taken by those according to need.  The perfect communist society.  And truly authentic to the yet unknown communist philosophy.  Right down to the recurring famines.

The harvest of 1620 was poor.  Making the first winter hard.  And there was famine.  It was so bad that half of them died.  The Indians then taught them how to grow corn.  Things were looking up.  They celebrated the first Thanksgiving.  But the harvest of 1621 was just as bad as the harvest of 1620.  And they suffered another famine.  Another poor harvest followed in 1622.  And another famine.  Why?  Because people were lazy.  The most able-bodied of them did not want to work according to their ability.  Just so the lazy could enjoy the fruit of their labors.  And draw from the common stores according to their need.  Without contributing anything to the common stores.  Because they had better things to do than work.  Besides, it was easier just to steal what others grew than working hard in the fields.

All of the Things that made America Great were born in Plymouth Colony

Jamestown was suffering the same fate.  The socialist utopia of living in a commune just didn’t work.  The most able-bodied men refused to work according to their ability to support other men’s wives and children.  For they had their own wives and children to support.  So those with ability did the minimum.  Because doing any more didn’t help them in any way.  Or their families.  It was like asking people to work an extra two hours at work for free.  So others with large families to support could work two hours less and go home early.  So one group of workers work 10 hours for 8 hours of wages.  While another group work for 6 hours for 8 hours of wages.  Which is socialism.  Redistribution.  From those according to ability to those according to need.  It was this economic philosophy many settlements used.  Giving them poor harvests.  And famines.

But that all changed in 1623 for the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony.  William Bradford, governor of the colony, changed the economic system.  He abolished socialism.  And replaced it with free market capitalism.  He parceled out the common land.  Giving each household a parcel of land.  Saying it was their property.  It belonged to them.  As did anything they grew on it.  Which meant the more they grew the more they could eat.  Or trade for other things they needed.  Which unleashed the energies in the able-bodied.  And they worked their behinds off.  Growing as much as they possibly could.  Soon the harvests everywhere they implemented free market capitalism were bountiful.  Even in Jamestown.  And there was no famine in Plymouth Colony following the 1623 harvest.  Things were different.  And never would be the same again.

Finally the Pilgrims had a reason to be thankful.  Free markets.  The best medicine there is for famine.  Thanks to free market capitalism the colonies prospered.  And a new nation arose.  This economic liberty would go on to make the United States the greatest nation in the world.  Religious freedom.  Private property.  Limited government.  All of those things that made America great were born there in Plymouth Colony.  Thanks to William Bradford.  Who saw the futility of socialism.  And abolished it.  Things were difficult in the beginning.  But their decision to leave England ultimately provided the better life they were seeking.  And as it turned out they got out when the getting was good.  For the religious climate didn’t improve in England.  As the conflict between Catholics and Protestants would lead to civil war in 1642.  And it wasn’t pleasant.  Missing the horror of that gave the Pilgrims another thing to be thankful for.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #14: “Christianity does not beget antidisestablishmentarianism.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 18th, 2010

DID THE FOUNDING Fathers found America as a Christian nation?  No.  Did they found a secular nation?  Not exactly.  Did they found a federal nation?  Yes.

Federalism.  What does it mean?  It means the new federal government would have LIMITED powers.  The new national government would do national things.  Trade.  National defense.  Treat with other nations.  In other words, those things that required a single national voice.  The French didn’t want to treat with the individual states.  They didn’t want one set of trade agreements for Virginia and another for North Carolina.  Neither did Great Britain.  Or the other European powers.  No.  If the United States of America wanted to be an independent nation, then they had to act as a single, unified nation.  So they did.

The other things, the non-national things, they left to the states.  And one of these things was religion.  For when it came to religion, the new federal government did not interfere in the states’ religious business.  Ergo the First Amendment.  The ‘wall’ between church and state was to separate the new federal government from the states’ religious establishments.  If a state discriminated against all but their established religion, that was fine and dandy for it was a moot point as far as the federal government was concerned.  It just wasn’t their business.

Now, a truly secular government would intervene in such a case.  The federal government would later, but at the founding, one of the preconditions for ratification of the Constitution was that it wouldn’t.  And it didn’t.  Interfere with a state’s religion.

WE ALL KNOW the story of the Pilgrims, the Puritans, coming to the New World from England to escape religious persecution.  Probably not as familiar with the backstory.  The English Civil War.  Duke of Buckingham.  King and Parliament.  Queen and Parliament.  The French.  The Spanish.  The Pope.  The Kirk.  The Ulster Uprising.  Oliver Cromwell.  And, of course, William Laud.

Here’s the short version of what happened.  And some back-story to the back-story.  The Protestant Reformation split the Catholic Church.  Much fighting ensued.  This split nations into essentially Catholic and Protestant camps (which broke down into further divisions).  England was Protestant.  Scotland was Presbyterian (a branch of Protestantism).  Ireland was Catholic with a Protestant enclave in Ulster.

Mix them together, add a not great English king, who married a French Catholic, throw in a revised Church of England prayer book, bring back some Catholicism to the Protestant Church of England, dissolve Parliament, recall Parliament, try to dissolve it again and, well, you get civil war.  Parliament wins the war.  They behead the king. 

The English Civil War is a little more complicated than this.  But for our purposes, it’s the religious component that’s important. Everyone persecuted someone at one time.  One group, the Puritans, were Protestants.  Hardcore Protestants.  Calvinists.  They were about as anti-Catholic as you could get.  Didn’t like any of the Catholics’ fancy vestments, icons, statues, pictures, altar rails, candlesticks, stained glass windows, etc.  That church was corrupt.  They had lost their way. 

They didn’t believe in original sin or that you can buy your way into heaven.  God chose your fate before you were born.  If you were one of the elect, you passed your days in long church services and you read the Bible.  If you didn’t do these things it was proof you weren’t one of the elect.  And were damned.  No matter what you did during your life.  Cure cancer, it didn’t matter.  You were damned.

They didn’t like Catholics and Catholics didn’t like them.  And, as it turned out, the Protestant powers that be didn’t much care for them either.  In England or on the Continent.  They just couldn’t be un-Catholic enough to please the Puritans.  Much bitterness ensued.  Many left the Old World and settled in the New World.  Like the Israelites fleeing Egypt, these Puritans came to the New World to establish that city on a hill of Mathew 5:14 fame (from the Sermon on the Mount.  Given by Jesus Christ.  Just in case you’re unfamiliar with it).

THEY CAME FROM England, Scotland, the Netherlands, France and settled in New England, New York and the far side of the Appalachians.  A hard working people.  They provided for themselves.  Went to church.  Read the Bible.  All work and no play.  At least, some would say. 

They established the state-supported Congregational Church in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  John Adams was born and raised a Calvinist and attended this state-supported church.  When writing the new state’s constitution, the state support of the church was a contentious issue.  Most felt that religion was an indispensible part of life.  Others agreed but feared a religious majority would oppress a religious minority.  The process would take 3 years to resolve.

Being in the heart of the rebellion, Abigail Adams, Founding Mother, and perhaps America’s first feminist, experienced much of the darker side of the struggle for independence.  Soulmate of John Adams in every sense of the word, she was as religious as he.  As the war dragged on with no end in sight, she feared it was God’s punishment for the sins of American slavery.

IN VIRGINIA, THE established church was the Anglican Church (i.e., the Church of England).  As in Massachusetts, there was debate about an established majority religion oppressing a minority religion.  For good reason.  It did.  Right in James Madison’s backyard.  Baptists were harassed.  And imprisoned.  You needed a license to preach.  Virginia and the established church made getting that license very difficult.  If you were a Baptist.

America’s least religious Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, wrote the Virginian Statute for Religious Freedom.  The Virginian General Assembly passed it in 1786, two years before the states ratified the U.S. Constitution.  To help get the Virginian Baptists on board for ratification, James Madison, the father of the Constitution, promised to add a Bill of Rights after ratification that would add similar rights and protection at the federal level that were enacted at the state level.

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN MAY have been a Deist.  He was, after all, the embodiment of the Enlightenment.  Like Thomas Jefferson.  They embraced reason over dogma.  But Franklin believed religious faith was fundamental to civilized society.  His personal beliefs boiled down to simply doing good deeds.  Help others.  And sometimes you need to remind some people to help others.  And that’s why he liked religion.  He spent much of his life helping his community (serving in the state militia, participating in the volunteer fire department, etc.).  At an impasse at the Constitutional Convention, it was he who suggested they should pray.

GEORGE WASHINGTON MAY not have taken communion, but he added chaplains to his army units during the American Revolution.  He believed the American cause was a divine one.  He feared a lack of faith may determine battlefield outcomes.  He led an integrated army of Protestants and Catholics.  And Jews.  And blacks.  And others.  He forbade anti-Catholic demonstrations which were very common in the former British colonies.  When an Army went to Canada to attack the British, they were to respect the Catholic French Canadians and invite them to join their cause.  He would even attend Catholic service on occasion.  Like the army, the nation he would lead would be a melting pot.  Tolerance and respect was the mantra.  For all Americans.

SO, DID THE Founding Fathers found a Christian nation?  No.  Religious establishment was simply beyond the responsibility of the new federal government.  Did Christians settle the original colonies?  Yes.  And they established Christian churches.  And the states were worried that a new federal government would interfere with their religious business.  Some wanted additional safeguards written in.  So James Madison added the Bill of Rights after ratification.  The First Amendment placed a wall between the federal government and the States’ religious establishments.

In time, the states extended the tolerance and respect of religious diversity prevalent in Washington’s army to their states.  They disestablished their established churches.  And, to their relief, religion flourished.  Especially the different branches of Christianity.  Yes, America became even more Christian, but it tolerated and respected other religions.  New York even had a Jewish Temple 3 years after the British surrender at Yorktown.  And even the Catholics were welcomed in the new nation.

DISESTABLISHMENTARIANISM INCREASED THE spread of Christianity.  Like the economy, the freer it was the more it flourished.  And with the great number of Christian religions that have since spread across the nation, it is unlikely that overt acts of Christianity would result in the establishment of one of these.  Or the reestablishment of the Church of England. 

So go ahead and display your Christmas Crèche or the Ten Commandments.  Chances are good that it won’t beget antidisestablishmentarianism.

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