PART III – THE FIRST THANKSGIVING

LIFE IN THE NEW WORLD

In the spring of 1621 the Pilgrims began to plant crops. One day a native Indian walked into their midst speaking English. How astonishing that must have been!  His name was Squanto and he had been kidnapped from the area years earlier.  Squanto had traveled far away to North Africa, lived in Spain with Christian monks and learned to speak fluent English while visiting England. He was also familiar with the Scriptures.  Squanto was part of an Indian tribe that had lived where the Pilgrims landed, but had died out years before from a plague during his absence. Squanto taught them how to fish and plant corn, and was a liaison between them and the surrounding Indian tribes. According to Bradford, Squanto had been prepared by God for fifteen years to help this band of Pilgrims get established in the new world.

As had been reluctantly agreed upon with the Merchant Venturers who financed their voyage, the Pilgrims’ arrangement of economics was to be in essence a system of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”[v]

This communal system, however, turned out to have crippling drawbacks, according to Bradford. Those from the upper classes in England simply would not work the dirt. People would pretend to be sick. Attempting to force women and children to labor seemed tyranny to all. Some who actually worked felt it unfair. Then, when the fields had been planted, no one felt responsible to water, nurture and protect the crops from the wild animals through the summer.

The result was that when harvest time came in the fall of 1621, it was virtually non-existent.

That year, fall and winter were extremely difficult for them. The Pilgrims spent their time foraging for sustenance, and some became servants to the Indians or sold them their blankets and goods, what little they had, for food.

A NEW ECONOMIC SYSTEM

In their distress again that winter they sought God for answers. They came to the conclusion that “they should set corne every man for his owne perticuler.”[vi]  In other words, each should govern his own life in the economic sphere as well.

When spring 1622 came they did something new. They divided up the land and gave a piece of property to each family. Each single person was assigned to work with one of the families.  They then gave each family a portion of the seed they had left. They said, in effect, “Here is your seed and there is your land. Do what you like with it.”
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The Pilgrims decided they should govern themselves under God in the area of economics as in all other areas.
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Bradford wrote that since they were again facing starvation, everyone went directly to work. Along with the able-bodied men the English upper classes, the women, the sick, the children and even the pregnant were all out hard at work preparing their fields and planting seed. Each family nurtured its own piece of property through the summer. The result was that there was a plentiful harvest that second autumn. Each family had enough to eat, store, replant and trade.

This was the seed of an individual enterprise system of economics, the application of Christian self-government in the economic sphere.

Bradford believed that the problem had been the system, not the people. He wrote,

“The experience they had . . . may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato and other ancients, applauded by some of later times; that the taking away of property, and bringing in community into a common wealth, would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (as far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort . . . And would have been worse if they had been men of another condition [non-Christians]. Let none object this is men’s corruption, and nothing to the course [system] itself. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in His wisdom saw another course fitter for them.”[vii]

DEPENDENCE ON GOD

Bradford also notes, however, that lest they become dependent on their new system, “God seemed to intervene against their hopes of a crop –

By a great drought which continued from the third week in May, till about the middle of July, without any rain, and with great heat (for the most part), insomuch as the corn began to wither away, part whereof was never recovered. Upon which they set apart a solemn day of humiliation, to seek the Lord by humble and fervent prayer, in this great distress. And He was pleased to give them a gracious and speedy answer, both to their own and the Indian’s admiration, that lived among them. Though it was hot through the morning and most of the day, toward evening it began to grow overcast and then rain gently in abundance without wind or thunder or violence.”[viii]

It was an answer to their prayer, “as was wonderful to see, and made the Indians astonished to behold.”  God then gave them just the weather and rain they needed the rest of the growing season.  That fall they had an abundant harvest.

Bradford wrote, “For which mercy (in time convenient) they also set apart a day of thanksgiving.”
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We must acknowledge our dependence on God both for the system and for the working of the system.
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This first Thanksgiving Day of theirs in the new world was celebrated specifically for this answer to their prayer for rain as they humbled themselves before God. It was recognized as a feast of gratitude to God, who was sovereign in their experience.

Though they recognized that they had a system from God that could bring fourth abundance, it became evident to the Pilgrims that they still needed to recognize their daily personal dependence on God, just as the children of Israel had done in the wilderness they had faced, thousands of years before. We must acknowledge our dependence on God both for the system and for the working of the system.

THE ESSENTIAL PILGRIM CHARACTER

A few aspects of the Pilgrims’ character should be mentioned since they are part of the spiritual heritage of America. In addition to the faith and steadfastness, self-governing, self-educating and entrepreneurial character mentioned, there were clear expressions of faithfulness, charity and forgiveness to those who met and dealt with them.

There is no clearer example of these latter qualities than how the struggling colony at Plymouth dealt with those who had sponsored them in their quest to America. The English merchant venturers had financed the Pilgrim’s voyage via the Mayflower at a usurious 40% interest. In return for this, the merchants had promised the Pilgrim settlers regular support shipments of food, tools, grain and other survival essentials. The unscrupulous merchants literally sent instead, shiploads of freedom-seeking people, who were completely unprepared to deal with the harsh realities of life in the new world wilderness.

As it turned out, the new arrivals were sent without personal provisions and the merchants neglected to include the support supplies they had promised the needy Pilgrims. Though betrayed by the English company several times, the Pilgrims arrived at the decision that they had contracted their voyage with the merchants in good faith and they must keep their word and honor their end of the agreement.  Jesus told them in Matthew 5:37, “Let your yes be yes.”
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The Biblical character qualities hammered out by the Pilgrims were the spiritual foundation of the new American nation.
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The Pilgrim settlement eventually paid off the entire sum with interest. This demonstration of the character of the American forefathers is to us a precedent when tempted to default on financial agreements due to unjust, or even only irritating, treatment. The Bible instructed the early Americans to honor their word and contracts. The Pilgrims of the Plymouth colony saw this integrity as part of the spiritual roots of the new land.

The Pilgrims took in the new arrivals and helped and taught them instead of turning them out to make their own way in the wilderness. This was at considerable strain to their own inadequate provisions and comfort. The Bible instructed them to love their neighbors as themselves, not mentioning circumstances. Jesus taught, “Whatever you wish others to do for you, do so for them.” The context of this care was an attitude of forgiveness towards those in England who were using the new colony to line their own pockets.

God honored the Plymouth settlers. Over the years, the Pilgrims’ ideas of character, civil government and economics became cornerstone foundations of the American political and economic systems.

It took 150 years of preparing the character of the colonists before God released them to break from England and become a nation. It also took the Great Awakening to unite the colonists. The constitution of a land is first internal then external, first real individual character then the piece of paper.

The first Great Awakening in America took place in the period from approximately 1740 to 1780.  Multitudes throughout the colonies came into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ in a true grass roots Biblical revival. It was a sovereign move of God.  Along with individual surrender to God and an increase in personal righteousness came understanding of God’s ways in government by moral principle and Biblical principles of civil government.

Rather than a general rebellion, the American Revolution was essentially Biblical self-defense against increasingly unjust oppression by the mother country, as enumerated in the Declaration of Independence.[ix]  The American Revolution had purpose and design.  It was carefully thought through and not simply anarchy against legitimate authority. In contrast, the French revolution’s lack of this foundation in Biblical principle resulted in a reign of terror, anarchy, great arbitrary bloodshed, and tyranny.

A BACKSLIDDEN NATION

As a nation, America has in our generation turned from God.  We have ceased governing ourselves under God in many areas. We have been turning our freedom into license towards anarchy while at the same time becoming more dependent in character. The civil government has stepped in to take up the slack in education, welfare, health care, safety laws and other areas. This strengthens external government, eliminating freedoms and increasing the potential for corruption.

America needs a new spiritual awakening now in order to turn this downward, tightening spiral around, strengthening internal government so external liberty can be restored and maintained.

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STUDY QUESTIONS – The Thanksgiving Story

  • Why were the Puritans of Scrooby, England opposed so dramatically by the English church and state?
  • Describe the life of the Pilgrims in Holland and their reasons for finally making the voyage to the New World.
  • Explain the seed ideas contained in the Mayflower compact and their historical significance.
  • Describe the first economic system used by the Pilgrims and its effects.
  • Explain why the system of “individual enterprise” brought forth a new mentality of work and responsibility among the Pilgrims.
  • Explain the first Thanksgiving and the reasons for this Pilgrim festival.  How can you make a tradition of telling the true Thanksgiving story in your family and sphere of influence?

 

[v] Hall, Verna M. The Christian History of the Constitution of the United States of America, Christian Self-Government, San Francisco, Foundation for American Christian Education, 1966, p. 211.

[vi] Ibid. p. 213.

[vii] Ibid. p. 213.

[viii] Ibid. p. 215.

[ix] Ibid. p. 346B. Declaration of Independence.

PART II – THE PILGRIMS’ NEW CIVIL STRUCTURE

STORMY VOYAGE

Three attempts to sail to Jamestown were thwarted by weather. Jamestown was an English colony established nine years earlier by another group of Puritans in present day Virginia. The Mayflower finally put in for the winter at a random bay on November 11 to escape the stormy weather.  The Pilgrims named the settlement they planted Plymouth after their home in England.  Their location was in present day Massachusetts, quite a distance from where they had expected to land. The place was cold and desolate and very discouraging after their difficult voyage.

The strangers among them threatened mutiny, recognized they were not under any government here in the wilderness. Before going ashore, the Pilgrims drew up a new government for the whole group.  The document became known as the Mayflower Compact.

The purpose of the Mayflower Compact was to define among them an authority by consent and to establish a promise to obey. It declares that as a civil body they will meet together to frame laws and ordinances needed for the good of the colony and that they promise to obey them.  It is given below as written in Bradford’s history.[ii]

THE MAYFLOWER COMPACT

“In ye name of God, Amen. We whose names are under-writen, loyall subjects of our dread soveraigne Lord, King James, by ye grace of God, of Great Britaine, Franc, & Ireland king, defender of ye faith &c., haveing under-taken, for ye glorie of God, and advancemente of ye Christian faith, and honour of our king & countrie, a voyage to plant ye first colonie in ye Northerne parts of Virginia, doe by these presents solomnly & mutualy in ye presence of God, and one of another, covenant & combine our selves togeather into a civill body politick, for our better ordering & preservation & furtherance of ye ends aforesaid: and by vertue hearof to enacte, constitute, and frame such just & equall lawes, ordinances, acts, constitutions, & offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meete & convenient for ye generall good of ye Colonie, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witnes wherof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cap-Codd ye 11. of November, in ye year of ye raigne of our soveraigne lord, King James, of England, Franc, & Ireland ye eighteenth, and of Scotland ye fiftie fourth. Ano:Dom. 1620.”

This one-sentence covenant marked the first time in history that men voluntarily established a civil form of self-government and agreed to it, both Pilgrims and strangers. It should be marveled that they knew just how to proceed. Actually they had been governing themselves as a church body in this way for years, providing the model for the civil structure they now needed. Bradford said that they saw this act of theirs to be as secure as any patent granted by England, “and in some respects more sure.”[iii]  This was because they all agreed and voluntarily accepted it personally.

Some of the Biblical principles of government involved in the Mayflower Compact included these:

1) The individual has the responsibility to govern himself in every area of life and should be left free to do so.

2) The civil structure exists for protection and the common good.

3) The civil structure exists to serve the individual, not vice versa.

4) Government must be by consent of the governed, not by decree from above.

5) All are equal under the law.

CLASS STRUCTURE CHALLENGED

It should be noted that the Pilgrims approached their new relationship with the local residents, the Native American Indians, with these ideas in mind. They made a treaty with the Indians recognizing that the Indian was of equal value with the Englishman and therefore was equal under the law.  There was no class difference between them.  The purpose of the treaty was mutual protection not control; to help the Indians not rule them. Both Pilgrims and Indians agreed to the treaty (government by consent of the governed) and lived in peace for more than fifty years.[iv] _____________________________

The Pilgrims in Plymouth treated the local Indians as equals.

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This was in contrast to the experience of the Puritans in Jamestown who had not yet arrived at the conceptual changes in their ideas of government. Though Godly and sincere, the Virginia Puritans still possessed the traditional European ideas of government. They retained concepts of class structure, which viewed the value of the individual as defined by his station in life. They viewed the main purpose of civil government as control, rather than protection. Therefore they naturally saw themselves as superior and saw their duty as imposing government control on the native peoples. The natives didn’t appreciate this, and there was therefore a good deal of trouble between them and the Puritans, even bloodshed. _____________________________

The Pilgrims in Plymouth and the Puritans in Jamestown differed in their philosophy of government.

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That first winter at Plymouth was extremely difficult for the Pilgrims.  By Spring a full half of the Pilgrims had died due to hunger, disease and exposure. Yet, when the weather cleared and the Mayflower returned to England, none of the determined band of Pilgrims went back with it. They clung to the belief that God was doing something new. In spite of the suffering they were enduring, they believed they were in God’s will. This was truly a people of whom the world is not worthy.

 

(Next) PART III – THE FIRST THANKSGIVING

 

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[ii] Hall, Verna M. The Christian History of the Constitution of the United States of America, Christian Self-Government, San Francisco, Foundation for American Christian Education, 1966, p. 204, Mayflower Compact.

[iii] Ibid. p. 204.

[iv] Ibid. p. 206.

PART I – IN DEFENSE OF THE PILGRIMS

PART I – TWO GROUPS ON THE MAYFLOWER VOYAGE

Reading many people’s thoughts on the early Pilgrims, there is an important factor that most have not taken into account.  We must recognize that there were two groups sailing aboard the Mayflower – the congregation of Puritans from Scrooby, England, who left England due to persecution, and the people whom they called “strangers,” who were random, seafaring adventurers from England who were not at all connected with the Pilgrims and did NOT share their frame of mind, or their  ideas.  Though only one third of the passengers on the Mayflower were Pilgrims, somehow blame for everything bad that happened gets heaped on them!  This excerpt is the Pilgrim story summarized from Bradford’s History, 1647 in Chapter 8 of the book “Self-evident Truths” about the Foundations of American Political Thought.

 THE SEEDS OF AMERICAN LOCAL SELF-GOVERNMENT

By the late 1570’s in England the common people had been exposed to the Bible for a few generations.  Many had come into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  As these lettered new believers studied the scriptures they began to come under persecution from the state. They were doing things strictly forbidden – holding home Bible studies outside the authority of the English church/state political structure.

From the Scriptures, however, these believers could find nothing wrong with their activities. They were hungry to learn about the living God. Nonetheless, they were raided, imprisoned and relieved of their property by the authorities. The Christians saw this as unjust and began to clamor for the English church to be purified back to its original New Testament base. These Christians became known derogatorily as Puritans. The battle was engaged as the power of the English church/state combination came up against the conscience and courage of the Puritans.

A NEW ECCLESIASTICAL STRUCTURE

In 1594. one group of Puritans in Scrooby, England came to the conclusion that the church/state political combination in England looked more like the anti-Christ than an instrument of God. Finally, they reluctantly decided to break away from the Church of England altogether.  Forming their own self-governing church fellowship they began to reform their lives on their own. They studied the scriptures to find out how to govern themselves, their families and their local church fellowship.
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One group of Puritans in Scrooby, England formed their own self-governing church fellowship.
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This was a radical move.  They were met with both persecution by the state and disapproval from some of their Puritan friends. These friends felt it was wrong to separate from the church, but rather work to reform the church from within.  The Scrooby Puritans were derisively called “Separatists.”  But their conclusion was that the structure – whether civil or religious – should exist to serve the individual not the other way around. So they set up a new structure in accordance with their belief that the individual is to govern himself under God in every area of life including the ecclesiastical or religious area. This decentralization was the result of an increase in self-governing character as they shouldered personal responsibility under God.

This was the tiny, initial seed of local self-government.

ENGLISH SEPARATISTS IN HOLLAND

Under persecution these separatists ultimately left England and went to Holland.  There they spent ten years studying their Bibles and working basically as slaves. It was very hard because the separatists were farmers and the Dutch were sea traders and fishermen. The separatists had left virtually everything they owned when they fled England and were starting over. They hired themselves out as servants and soon gained a good reputation for being hard workers, conscientious and honest, which put them in demand.

Beyond the physical difficulties was their grief over what had happened in England. They were God-fearing, honorable Englishmen yet had been hounded out of England by the church/state in authority there. “Why would God allow this?” they wondered.  “What went wrong?”  During their ten years in Holland they searched the Scriptures to find answers to these questions. They continued together as a local self-governing fellowship, seeking God to learn how they should govern themselves as a church organization as well as personally.

Life was extremely difficult in Holland and ultimately they decided it would be better to go to the “New World” and take their chances there. Their leader, William Bradford, wrote of their reasons for this decision[i]:

1) Their situation entailed such difficult labor that few of their friends from England would join them in Holland, and some of those in Holland were not able to stand their ground, but returned to England.

2) They saw that they were beginning to age and needed to make a move before they were unable.
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Some of the Puritans left England under persecution and went to Holland and then the new world, and were known as Pilgrims.
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3) Their children’s bodies were losing their vigor under the load, and though many had the best of dispositions, this grieved these Puritans.

4) Some of their children, as a result of the hardship and the “great licentiousness of the youth in that country” were being drawn into Dutch sin and society, which grieved them even more.

5) They desired to “advance the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world; yea though they should be but even as stepping stones unto others for the performing of so great a work.”

Bradford wrote in 1647 from his diary the history of the Scrooby congregation’s wanderings, entitled “Of Plymouth Plantation.” The vision, integrity, and fortitude of these people challenge us all and are a source of great encouragement and wisdom. Through their time of wandering this group of Puritans became known as Pilgrims.

SEVEN GREAT EXCHANGES

In their Bible study during these years in Holland the Pilgrims came to seven great exchanges in philosophy of government (summarized):

1) From the idea of the infallibility of a church organization, to the idea of the infallibility of the Bible.

2) From the idea of political sovereignty belonging to the King or the Pope, to the idea of political sovereignty resting in the individual governed by God.

3) From the idea of sovereignty as being external, to the idea of sovereignty ruling in the heart of the individual as being internal.

4) From the idea of a class structure, where the individual’s value is based on external things (position, wealth, gender, race, age, ability) to the idea of equality for all, where the individual’s value is recognized as intrinsic, infinite and equal to every other person’s value. Since all are treated by God as equal under His law, all must be treated by man as equal under civil law.

5) From the idea of limited freedoms of the individual as granted by the King, and therefore revocable by the King, to the idea of unalienable God-given rights of the individual to life, liberty and property that may not be taken away by man.
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In Holland, the Pilgrims exchanged seven historic ideas about God, man and government.
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6) From the idea of the flow of power in a nation being from the state to the people, making the individual the servant of the state, to the idea of the flow of power in a nation being from the people to the state through the people choosing representatives.  Thus the state is the servant of the individual, the individual being the servant of God.

7) From the idea of compulsory uniformity in the externals in society, to the idea of diversity with unity, recognizing the differences between people in gift, call and character.  Unity is to be maintained within this diversity by virtue of the recognition of equality of intrinsic value and our need for one another.

The Pilgrims set sail August 5, 1620 on two ships, the Mayflower and the Speedwell.  The arduous 90 day voyage is chronicled in Bradford’s diary.  The Speedwell sprung a leak early in the voyage and returned to England.  The Mayflower trek was long and bleak.

Of the 102 passengers on the Mayflower, 37 were part of the Scrooby congregation. The rest were seafaring adventurers whom the Pilgrims called “strangers.” They were all confined below deck for most of the voyage.  They lived in an area the size of a volleyball court with a 5-foot ceiling. The hatches were battened down much of the trip due to severe storms that blew them far off their intended course.

 

(next) PART II – THE PILGRIMS’ NEW CIVIL STRUCTURE

 

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[i]  Hall, Verna M. The Christian History of the Constitution of the United States of America, Christian Self-Government, San Francisco, Foundation for American Christian Education, 1966, pp. 191-193, Of Plymouth Plantation.

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What Actually Is Liberty?

We need to understand the difference between liberty and freedom.  We generally think of them as equivalent terms.

Noah Webster defines liberty as “the power of acting as one thinks fit, without any restraint or control, except from the laws of nature.”  He defines “laws of nature” as “rules of conduct arising out of the natural relations of human beings established by the creator.”  So liberty means freedom limited by the boundaries of God’s law – the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule.

In essence, liberty is freedom to do what is right.

Thus, the Founders saw that the proper purpose of civil government is to protect liberty, not freedom.

They believed that for every wrong and evil thing to do there are a hundred right and good things to do.  People should be left free to do those hundred good things, and civil government should be bound in chains of law to limit it from interfering and keep it protecting that freedom, and guarding men from doing the one evil thing.

Noah Webster standardized the American language with his American Dictionary of the English Language, published 1828.  He is known as the Founding Father of American scholarship.  He taught Biblical philosophy of government in the Constitutional Convention.