Constitutionalism, Capitalism, and Christianity

Here are some of my thoughts about Thanksgiving. I am liberally plagiarizing myself from other articles I have written in the past on the topic, so if you see a paragraph you saw before elsewhere, that is why:

Thanksgiving is nearly a perfect holiday, since by rights it combines the awesome and uplifting act of humiliating oneself to God in thanks for the bounties and blessings poured onto this nation by Providence, with the tradition of gathering the family and clan together in a feast of sumptuous proportions, a feast meant to remind us of the wealth the hard work of our fathers created for us, and to remind us of the hard-won liberty and wise laws protecting our rights to enjoy that wealth and worship that God.

Thanksgiving sums up the three greatest blessings of America.

Our political system is a voluntary mutual compact of limited and equal government enshrining individual rights; our economic system is a free market protecting individual property; and our religious heritage is one of the liberty of the individual conscience, a principle found in only faith in the world.

The 3 Cs of America are Constitutionalism, Capitalism, and Christianity. At Thanksgiving, we give thanks for all three at once.

Constitution:

These are words from the Mayflower Compact, a document every student in school should read, and every American.

In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, defender of the Faith, etc. having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presentssolemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

Please note: The purpose of the expedition is explicitly stated to be glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.

Do not be puzzled that the Compact refers to New England is the ‘Northern Parts of Virginia.’ In those days, the First Virginia Company Charter issued by the Crown extended from the area between 34 and 41 degrees latitude plus fifty English miles beyond, that is, from present day South Carolina to the spot where, twenty years later, New Amsterdam would stand, and, forty years after that, New York. Practically the whole coastline north of Florida was called Virginia.

There being no local squire or royal governor set over them, the pragmatic Pilgrims did what religious orders since before the Middle Ages had done for the government of their monastic communities: they mutually agreed to follow the laws mutually enacted, and having an elected leader rather than an appointed one.

This same tradition reaching back from the Parliament of England to the Senate of pre-Imperial Rome is embodied in the Mayflower Compact. The various colonial constitutions and charters also drew from it, and eventually the US Constitution, which is the pinnacle and best example of the lawgiver’s art history has ever seen. All constitutions since then, as in Revolutionary France or Russia, have been markedly inferior, if not positively grotesque.

The Pilgrim’s story concerning constitutional government is plain and is inspiring.

Capitalism:

The economic side of the story is even clearer. It seems that the Pilgrims, having decided to share all property in common, and share all labor between themselves in the communal fashion of the first Apostles, found nothing but misery and poverty in the prospect.

In Bradford’s History of the English Settlement, Governor Bradford gives this account of the experiment in communism:

The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years, and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince, the vanity of that conceit of Plato’s, and other ancients, applauded by some of later times that the taking away of property, and bringing in community into a commonwealth; would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God.

For this community (so 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.

For the young men that were most able and fit for labor and service, did repine that they should spend their time, and strength to work for other men’s wives and children, without any recompense.

The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes, than he that was weak, and not able to do a quarter the other could, this was thought injustice.

The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalised, in labors, and victuals, clothes, &c., with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignity, and disrespect unto them.

And for men’s wives to be commanded, to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, &c., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook it.

Upon the point all being to have alike, and all to do alike, they thought themselves in the like condition, and one as good as another; and so if it did not cut off those relations, that God hath set amongst men; yet it did at least much diminish, and take off the mutual respects, that should be preserved amongst them.

And would have been worse if they had been men of another condition.

Let none object this is men’s corruption; and nothing to the course itself; I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in his wisdom saw another course fitter for them.

For those of you unfamiliar with archaic turns of speech, what the Governor is saying here is that under “community” that is, communist living, the unproductive is rewarded equally with the productive, the successful with the unsuccessful, wise greybeards with loud young sophomores, respectable people with those not so respectable. A woman might be a queen in her own house, but when forced to work in another’s wagelessly is indeed a slave. And communism destroys mutual respect between all these relations, inside and outside the family. No one like to wipe the bottoms of the children of other men.

He emphasizes that the failure of communism is not due to the folly and weakness of men. These men were stout and honest. The failure is not due to a lack of will or virtue in those who have attempted it.

Bradford mentions the happier sequel:

SO they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done; that they might not still thus languish in misery.

At length, after much debate of things, the Governor, with the advice of the chiefest amongst them, gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves; in all other things to go on in the general way as before.

And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number… and ranged all boys, and youth under some family.

This had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted, than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content.

The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn, which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny, and oppression.

The moral of this story is that even after years of a foolish and godless scheme, the return of sanity can happen, and will have immediate results. When the corn is your own, even women and children will volunteer for work as hard as they can manage to do.

Christianity:

Most literate people of my generation know the story of Squanto and the Pilgrims. I will recount it in brief for those of you who went to public school.

The ship was blown off course by storms, failed to make port, and put it at Plymouth. Here they found fields already cleared, and maize stored up, but no people. Had these things not been here, or had there been any hostile Indians in the area, the Pilgrims surely would have died.

Even with this help in place, that winder, the colonists suffered a dramatic death toll due to disease and starvation. Half were dead, and the half a dozen hale and healthy folk in the colony tended to the others, dressing meat and cleaning and changing their soiled clothing for them: five or so nurses tending fifty or so sick and doing all the other labor of the colony besides.

They had seen no Indians save for a few who stood aloof, running away when approached, or who stole some tools left unwatched during dinner.

Winter ended. In March, an Indian came forth from the woods speaking perfect English. His name was Squanto. Befriending the Pilgrims, he showed them were to find fresh springs of water, where and when to fish, where and how to grow maize (which we Americans to this day call corn) and how to make popcorn.

His story is dramatic and terrible: for he and four others had been lured aboard an English ship, captured, enslaved, given away, used as a native guide, and abducted a second time to be sold to the Spanish. Squanto was saved by a Franciscan friar and set free, and spent years looking for a way home from Europe.

Meanwhile his tribesmen back home had come across sailors shipwrecked on the American shores, whom they slaughtered, except for three, whom they enslaved, and sent around from chieftain to chieftain to be tortured for their amusement.

The Europeans, however, carried diseases to which the Northern Americans had never developed any immunities. Before ever the first Pilgrim set foot on Plymouth Rock, the Patuxet Indian villages were wiped out by plague so swiftly that the Pilgrims found their huts still standing, eerie ghost towns, with the dead unburied. The surviving Indians naturally feared a curse and fled the area, so that by mere happenstance the one spot in America that was unoccupied was where the storm-tossed Pilgrims were driven ashore.

Squanto had labored for a shipbuilder in London and eventually made his way back to Newfoundland, and, later (on John Smith’s ship) to New England. Here found all his family dead and his tribe practically extinct.

So the storm just so happened to blow the Pilgrims into the only spot on the coast where there was food and cleared fields waiting for them, no enemies, and the one Indian on the continent who spoke perfect English happened to be living there.

Squanto acted as a translator and ambassador between the Pilgrims and the Indians, and secured a peace treaty which latest twenty five years. He also saw to it that the stolen tools were returned. It is thanks to his intervention that the colony survived at all.

Governor Bradford gives this account of Squanto’s death while he accompanied them to Manamoick Bay:

“Here Squanto fell ill of Indian fever, bleeding much at the nose, which the Indians take as a symptom of death, and within a few days he died. He begged the Governor to pray for him, that he might go to the Englishman’s God in heaven, and bequeathed several of his things to his English friends, as remembrances. His death was a great loss.”

After the appalling way the English had treated his people, and after the appalling way his people had treated the English who fell into their hands, despite all the suffering and disease and woe those days brought into their lives, Squanto nonetheless turned to God, and heard the Christian word of salvation.

And, if heaven shows on him the mercy we know in our own lives, Squanto is now exalted in paradise in greater splendor than the pagan gods of Olympus, a creature both happy and divine.

There are only two possibilities for this astonishing narrative: divine Providence arranged for Squanto to be in the one spot the winds were destined to drive the Pilgrims, since nothing else would have preserved their lives; the universe is a meaningless kaleidoscope of random events without point, purpose, or moral to the story, and the random throw of the dice just so happened to turn up a winning combination for the Pilgrims for no reason.

In the first universe, a loving God is behind these events, and they are meaningful, and life has a point. In the second, coincidence is god, but it is a blind and careless god, who accidentally brought about human life with the same meaningless pointlessness as the avocado pit was brought about. A human soul is no better or worse than a pit.

For me, the second god, blind, mindless and heartless, is the product of crass superstition.

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