November 22, 2018
Why did the Pilgrims come to Plymouth? That is a question worth asking this Thanksgiving morn. It's not an idle question, either, for it speaks to the very bedrock of America, what it was intended to be as opposed to what it has become.
Let me explain why I ask this.
Writing in Conservative HQ, Jeffrey A. Rendall states:
"Honest conservatives see Trump as an effective vehicle to implement policy ideas that have been tucked away for decades. The Constitution limits government for a reason – mainly because freedom of thought and action produce the most desirable outcomes for everyone. Government can’t do it all – and shouldn’t try, either." End excerpt.
He's half right; the Founding Fathers wanted limited government, but not because freedom produced "desirable outcomes for everyone" but that it was considered a Moral imperative. While the post-Revolution had it's share of plutocrats and wealth seekers, the fact of the matter was that material gain was secondary to most of the Framers at that time. The reality was that these men understood who it was that founded the original colonies, and why they did so.
People came here to be free. Oh, sure; the mechanics of it required a commercial aspect. The Pilgrims were funded by financial necessity to deal with wealthy merchants to fund the venture. A rich iron merchant named Thomas Weston Weston created a joint stock company, the London Company, for the adventure (freeing the Pilgrims from control by Dutch or Virginia investors who would have asserted authority over the governing of the colony) and he round up a number of investors who expected a return. The Pilgrims agreed to seven years of providing marketable materials (timber, fish, furs, etc.) in return for the money they needed.
Bob Adelmann tells us about it at The New American:
"Under English law all the territory claimed in America belonged to the Crown. The monarch could withhold it from use, keep any part of it as a royal domain, or grant it, by charter or patent, in large or small blocks, to privileged companies or persons.
And so, when the Pilgrims decided to leave England for political, economic, social or religious reasons, they had to get permission. As farmers and working class citizens they had little if any capital. So they approached a group of private capitalist entrepreneurs who were interested in exploiting the new world for profit, especially gold. As historian Robert V. Remini explains in A Short History of the United States, this group "formed a joint-stock company, the London Company, in which shares were sold to stockholders for twelve pounds ten shillings [roughly $250] in order to sponsor colonization by settlers in North America.” The London Company then obtained a grant from the Crown and additional financing through the Merchant Adventurers which considered their investment as a loan to the Pilgrims to be paid back, with interest and a share of the profits. Upon landing, the Pilgrims considered themselves as bound in a "common course” to repay the loan as quickly as possible. As Zernike explained, the Pilgrims "were more like shareholders in an early corporation than subjects of socialism.” Richard Pickering, deputy director of Plimouth Plantation, said the plan "was directed ultimately to private profit.”
That's as may be, but they organized the company along a socialist model, one that failed spectacularly. See, they thought the Crown owned the land (which theoretically it did, although possession is 9/10ths of the law) and they tried to run this in common.
But the point is, the Pilgrims didn't come to America to make a profit. They came to America to live as free human beings, worship as they saw fit, live their lives and control their own destinies. Money was secondary to them.
Oh, granted, they wanted to make a living, and they failed at it at first. But that was not why they left Europe, and not why they were willing to pledge their lives to the settlement.
It was about freedom; it has always been about freedom. The right to self-determination, to choose one's path in this world, to build one's life and better one's circumstances. Jeff Rendall gets it wrong when he says the purpose of freedom is to make a more prosperous nation; that is just a fringe benefit.
No, the Founding Fathers wanted a free society because they wanted a free society. They would have been content with a reasonably poor society that was free, rather than a fabulously rich nation in bondage (as modern America largely is).
And it wasn't just the Pilgrims who came to be free. All of our early settlers came here to get away from the yoke of aristocracy, of Merchantilism, of societal restraints. It was only much later that the material wealth of America became the major draw. Sadly, that is what brings people here now.
I argued the case that self-ownership is the first and fundamental right, the building block of all human rights. In fact the Founders of this country understood that fact; private property is the cornerstone of all civil society, and it starts with the ownership of self. In England it used to be a capital offense to commit suicide, for instance, because it was believed the Crown owned your body. If you survived a suicide attempt they would hang you. That illustrates the fundamental difference between America and old Europe. Yes, there would end up being laws against suicide based on the illegality of murder, but they never asserted the dominance of the State over the individual. See, it was understood that there is first God Almighty, then the individual, then the family, then the local community, then the ancillary organizations like the Churches and other community organizations, then the county, then the state. The central government was supposed to be a sort of better business bureau for the states. Unfortunately we have flipped this on it's head, making the Federal Government (as we mistakenly still call it; there is nothing federal about it) an imperial entity. Power was supposed to ultimately reside in the individual. The Constitution framed it in the Tenth Amendment as residing "with the states or with the People". That was a restriction placed on the central government and it recognized both the supremacy of states over the central government and the ultimate primacy of the individual aka freedom. The state governments were there to keep individuals from violating the rights of other free citizens, not to suppress those rights for some nebulous "common good".
That is where America has gone to hell. Everybody has an idea of how to make things better, how to change the country. But what does that mean? it means forcing the individual into a new mold, one that somebody with power decided was more pleasing to them. It is a gross abrogation of freedom. Progressivism is precisely that; tyranny dressed in pretty clothes. But make no mistake, the end game is not to free the individual but to enslave him, to shackle him for some notion of the higher power of the State.
It's a very Rousseauian idea. Rousseau argued in the Social Contract that freedom entailed surrender of autonomy to the State as the best way to promote happiness. He argued that made people more free because they voluntarily did that, and then the greater society could somehow work for the general welfare. His thinking was radically different than the earlier philosophes who gave much of the rationale for the American experiment (which likewise came from the Judeo-Christian tradition which spoke of the absolute sanctity of every human being. In Rousseau's world the individual matters less than the collective. Socialism was born of this, and the glamor of socialism (which is ultimately the enshrinement of the Sin of Sloth) has blinded generations since.
But it is an alien philosophy, completely at odds with what America is supposed to be about.
No, the Pilgrims came to be free, not to make money, and that was equally true of most early immigrants. America is supposed to be a place that values the individual and the family above all else. That these virtues also produce a cornucopia for the whole world is secondary. Freedom exists for freedom's sake.
We would do well to remember that this Thanksgiving.
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