In the aftermath of a momentous election, an election sure to change the course of our nation, it is tempting to despair. On this Thanksgiving, though, let us resist that powerful temptation and instead take stock of the blessings of liberty.
President Ronald Reagan often cited the Pilgrims who celebrated the first Thanksgiving as our forebears who charted the path of American freedom. He made frequent reference to John Winthrop’s “shining city upon a hill.”
As Reagan explained, “The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we’d call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free.”
Who were these “freedom men,” and how did they eventually blaze the path of true liberty? They were Calvinist Protestants who rejected the institutional Church of England, believing that worshipping God must originate freely in the individual soul, without coercion. Suffering persecution and imprisonment in England for their beliefs, a group of these separatists fled to Holland in 1608. There, they found spiritual liberty in the midst of a disjointed economy that failed to provide adequate compensation for their labors, and a dissolute, degraded, corrupt culture that tempted their children to stray from faith.
Determined to protect their families from such spiritual and cultural dangers, the Pilgrims left Plymouth, England, on 6 September 1620, sailing for a new world that offered the promise of both civil and religious liberty. After an arduous journey, they dropped anchor off the coast of what is now Massachusetts.
On 11 December 1620, prior to disembarking at Plymouth Rock, they signed the Mayflower Compact, America’s original document of civil government. It was the first to introduce self-government, and the foundation on which the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were built. Governor William Bradford described the Compact as “a combination … that when they came a shore they would use their owne libertie; for none had power to command them.”
Upon landing, the Pilgrims conducted a prayer service and quickly turned to building shelters. Under harrowing conditions, the colonists persisted through prayer and hard work, reaping a bountiful summer harvest. But their material prosperity soon evaporated, for the Pilgrims had erred in acquiescing to their European investors’ demands for a financial arrangement holding all crops and property in common, in order to return an agreed-to half to their overseas backers.
By 1623, however, Plymouth Colony was near failure as a result of famine, blight and drought, as well as excessive taxation and what amounted to forced collectivization.
In desperation, the Pilgrims set a day for prayers of repentance; God answered, delivering a gentle rainfall by evening. Bradford’s diary recounts how the colonists repented in action: “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 in the general way as before. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number.”
Property ownership and families freely laboring on their own behalf replaced the “common store,” but only after their ill-advised experiment with communism nearly wiped out the entire settlement.
In their simple representative government, born out of dedication to religious freedom, the Pilgrims replaced the rule of men – with its arbitrary justice administered capriciously at the whim of rulers who favor some at the expense of others – with the rule of law, treating individuals equally. Yet even these “freedom men” strayed under straits. So could we, if we revert to materialistic government reliance instead of grateful obedience to God. Sadly, we’re a long way down that path already.
Closing his farewell address in 1989, Ronald Reagan asked, “And how stands the city on this winter night?” Contemplating our blessings of liberty this Thanksgiving, nearly 20 years after President Reagan left office and 20 generations past the Pilgrims’ experience, how stands the city on our watch?
Publisher’s Note of Gratitude
Tuesday, I arrived port in San Diego aboard CVN-76 – the USS Ronald Reagan. She is the largest, fastest and most powerful warship on the high seas. I joined the Carrier Group in Pearl Harbor a week ago for the last leg of its six-month deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The day before boarding the Reagan, I visited the Arizona Memorial to honor and give thanks for the lives of all those brave souls who perished on 7 December 1941, and those who survived to become part of the Greatest Generation. Our stars and stripes were flying proudly in the wind above that hallowed harbor memorial – and over the towering bridge of the Reagan a few hundred feet across the water.
This past week was special for many reasons, most notably because of my having been back in the fold with uniformed Patriots – this time the outstanding CVN-76 Ship’s Company and its Air Wing.
I was deeply moved by the opportunity to worship with these young men and women (average age on board is 20) in several services conducted by Lee Axtell, Command Chaplain of Carrier Strike Group 7. He and his chaplains are in charge of ministry to more than 7,000 Navy personnel aboard the Group’s six ships. The largest of these services was held in the ship’s forecastle, and the proximity to the ship’s anchors was fitting.
It means a lot to me, personally, to be in the midst of Naval Aviation at its finest. My grandfather, father and uncle were all Naval Aviators. My dad, a Corsair pilot in WWII, took leave in 1945 after the Japanese surrender, to visit his sister at her college. To tell the whole truth, he was AWOL, having asking one of his squadron wingmen to complete his PT and flights. That wingman had a sister at the same college and my dad met her on that visit. Two years later, he married the sister of his wingman – my mother. I owe my very existence, in large part, to Naval Aviation.
It was an honor to join Lee, CVN-76 CO K.J. Norton and Carrier Air Group 14 CO Thomas Lalor, steaming from Pearl to North Island in San Diego. Under their leadership, the CVN-76 is returning home with the same young men and women who were on board when she departed six months ago – all of them. Thanks be to God.
I wish the entire crew and air wing a well-deserved and blessed Thanksgiving, and the same to all of you, our Patriot readers.
Semper Vigilo, Fortis, Paratus, et Fidelis!
Mark Alexander Publisher
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