Opinion | Morgan Liddick: Overeating and an abundance of freedom on the Thanksgiving of freedom
Special to the Daily
In two days, most of us will gather with friends and family to sacrifice a turkey and more autumn vegetables than we care to consider. We do this in honor of the past, and in thanks for present graces. But before the tryptophan coma strikes, before the football haze descends, before the second helping of dessert, in the words of the couplet from the Book of Sirach, “Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers, who begat us.”
This country owes much of its character and success to people fleeing the crushing hand of government. The early 1600s were not a happy time for religious nonconformists in England, so many sought refuge in North America. The Pilgrims crossed the North Atlantic in late autumn, created their own government out of necessity and survived their first bitter year, to make the beginnings of an English colony in what would become Massachusetts. We should remember them on Thursday, and thank them for their fierce will to survive and prosper; they helped make America an example for the world.
We should also take a moment to consider an important lesson Plymouth Colony has for us. Because their charter stipulated that all the colony’s land, buildings and products were to be communally owned, as soon as they came ashore they established what might be called a socialist theocracy.
It very nearly failed; half the colonists died in the first year, including Governor William Bradford’s wife. It quickly dawned on the survivors that their collectivism was a deadly error, since it gave no incentive for the most industrious or creative to work harder than the others. As Bradford himself later wrote:
“This community was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For young men that were most able and fit for labor and service did repine [object] that they should spend their time and strength to work for others men’s wives and children without recompense; that was thought injustice.”
The following year, Pilgrim colonists abandoned collectivism and assigned private property rights to all surviving members of their community. The result was a bounty they celebrated with the first Thanksgiving celebration, thanking both the native Americans who had given them crucial help and information, and particularly God who had, to their thinking, saved them from their errors.
We too should pause to give thanks that those who began the tradition we continue this week also showed us very clearly that socialism, by whatever name, ends in inefficiency and sloth.
In 1630, the colonists at Plymouth were joined by a larger group of co-religionists whose numbers and industry added to the growing success of New England. They were led by the charismatic John Winthrop, who in his sermons took pains to remind the newcomers that they were special; that they were to be a “beacon to all mankind;” a “city on a hill.”
This sense of exceptionalism — and the responsibilities that went with it — pervaded early America; the confidence thereby instilled brought our nation from insignificance to world power in less than two centuries. We should give thanks that this feeling continues among many in our country despite 30 years of diligent wrecking by leftist educators and pundits, and the current president’s distaste for the very idea.
The Pilgrims were far from perfect, but they never regarded themselves as such. They banished dissenters, punished reprobates and had unhealthy obsessions concerning the Devil. They were people of their time. But they did stake everything on a chance at a new life with greater freedom in a new-found land. They persisted; they overcame; in the end, they prospered, and their success speaks volumes about the central role attitude and effort play in any achievement. We should ponder this lesson as well, as we tidy up Thursday’s table.
Finally, Thursday presents an opportunity to celebrate the bonds the Pilgrims thought most essential to civilized life: those among family and friends. To these transplanted Englishmen, government was at best a necessary evil; it existed to provide public order and safety, protect public property and little else. The real business of life lay almost entirely outside its scope, the province instead of private associations, individual interests and personal diligence. It is a measure of the distance between them and ourselves that precious few today would choose to live in such a world, however much promise it may have held. Perhaps we should ask ourselves why we find the idea of such freedom so disquieting.
Before the tryptophan closes our eyes to thought for the day.
Morgan Liddick lives in Summit County.
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