On at least a couple of previous Thanksgivings, I have quoted from William Bradford’s account of the Pilgrims taking leave of the port of Delftshaven in 1620, crossing the Atlantic, and settling in Plymouth Colony. Bradford’s written account of the Pilgrims’ journey ends this way:
“Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wilde beasts and wilde men? and what multitudes of them there were, they then knew not: for which way soever they turned their eyes (save upward to Heaven) they could have but little solace or content in respect of any outward object; for summer being ended, all things stand in appearance with a weatherbeaten face, and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hew. If they looked behind them, there was a mighty ocean they had passed, and was now as a main bar or gulph to separate them from all the civil parts of the world.”
This may be the end of Bradford’s account, and no doubt it paints a bleak picture of what he foresaw for the Pilgrims in the new land – in the “desolate wilderness.” But I find it a good beginning for thinking about America on Thanksgiving, about the road we have traveled in the almost four centuries hence. And, most importantly, in thinking about the idea of America.
Certainly, as always, we continue to face challenges, and serious ones, as we strive to create the “more perfect Union” of which our Founders spoke in our Constitution’s Preamble. But, with all our challenges, America remains a bountiful country, with much opportunity for advancement for those who wish to work hard and share in the bounty.
I understand there are deep divisions in the country concerning important matters of domestic and foreign policy. But, frankly, despite what you may be told by today’s instant pundits, any real student of history knows that this is nothing new. There is a reason why in the earliest days of our Republic, Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans (yes, that is what they called themselves!) emerged to do battle with Adams’ Federalists. There were important philosophical differences between the two parties concerning the proper purposes of government and the legitimate extent of government power. And it has been ever thus, and that is as it should be in a democratic republic.
On Thanksgiving and throughout the year, I am unabashed in proclaiming my belief in American exceptionalism. I am unabashed because I have deep faith that the idea of America as expressed in our Constitution and Declaration of Independence is exceptional. The Declaration proclaims, “all Men are created equal, and they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” And the Constitution’s Preamble states that it is ordained to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
Understanding how far America has come since William Bradford looked upon the “desolate wilderness” in 1620, it is difficult not to be optimistic about our country’s “exceptional” future, and I am.
As I said above, I am not naïve about the serious challenges confronting the country today as in the past. And I full well understand that citizens have very different approaches to resolving the important issues of the day.
At the Free State Foundation, consistent with our understanding of the meaning of the Declaration and the Constitution, and the ideas they seek to embody, we advocate free market, limited government, and rule of law principles, with an emphasis on protecting individual freedom, free speech, and property rights as a sure means of promoting the nation’s social and economic well-being. In other words, as a means of preserving liberty while increasing America’s bounty for all.
We are grateful for many things on this Thanksgiving Day, but we are especially grateful for the freedom we still enjoy in America to vigorously advocate these principles and to espouse our perspectives and policy prescriptions. And, we are grateful that, if you differ, you still enjoy the same freedom.
So, looking backward over four centuries since the Pilgrims’ landing, but mostly looking ahead to the future, here’s wishing you a safe, happy Thanksgiving. As always, we’re most grateful for your support of the Free State Foundation and our work, and for your friendship.[Article originally posted on The Free State Foundation]