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OUR VIEW: Lessons from the pilgrims

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  • | 5:00 a.m. November 24, 2009
  • Sarasota
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Edward Winslow’s 1622 description of a Pilgrim feast is often regarded as the model from which grew our modern Thanksgiving tradition.

Winslow and Gov. William Bradford were the leaders of the Pilgrim settlement that landed at Cape Cod and eventually settled in Plymouth, Mass. The two kept diaries of the colonists’ settlement and, today, their descriptive recollections should be retold again and again throughout America — as reminders of our social, religious and economic heritage.

Two profound lessons stand out from the Pilgrims: their faith and thanksgiving toward God and their discovery, through incredible hardship, that the key to the flourishing of liberty and material abundance lay in private property.

In a letter Winslow wrote to a friend Dec. 11, 1621, he laced it with multiple references and thanks to God:

• “Our corn did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn” ...

• “ … It has pleased God so to possess the Indians with a fear of us, and love unto us, that not only the greatest king amongst them, called Massasoit, but also all the princes and peoples round about us, have either made suit unto us or been glad of any occasion to make peace with us … ”

• “ … You might on our behalf give God thanks who hath dealt so favorably with us.”

These are important reminders, especially now when hardship is befalling economies and families here and around the world. The hurt that families are experiencing brings into focus — especially for us who are so fortunate on Longboat Key — the many blessings God has allowed us to have.

The thanksgiving the Pilgrims expressed to God also is a reminder of the bibilical lessons from St. Paul, when he wrote to the Romans (5:3-5): … “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Before the Pilgrims held their feast with the Indians, they persevered through great hardships. They endured near-starvation for nearly two years. Of the 101 Pilgrims who arrived in 1620, nearly half were dead within a few months. Gov. Bradford wrote in his diary:

“Many sold away their clothes and bed coverings [to the Indians]; others (so base were they) became servants to the Indians, and would cut them wood and fetch them water for a capful of corn; others fell to plain stealing, both night and day, from the Indians … In the end, they came to that misery that some starved and died with cold and hunger. One in gathering shellfish was so weak as he stuck fast in the mud and was found dead in the place.”

And yet the Pilgrims persevered. And they did so, not only because of their faith, character and hope, but because of a profound decision that set the course for our nation’s prosperity over the next three centuries.

The Pilgrims turned from communal living, where everyone contributed food to a colony-operated warehouse, to private property.

Faced with starvation because of their communal arrangement, Gov. Bradford wrote, “The Governor and the chiefest among them gave way that they should set downe every man for his owne. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land.”

The results were miraculous.

“It made all hands very industrious,” Bradford wrote. “The women now went willingly into the field and took their little ones with them to set corn, which before they would allege weakness and inability. Some of the abler sort and more industrious had corn to spare and sell to others so any general want or famine hath not been among them since … ”

After the colony converted to private ownership, three or four Pilgrims provided for themselves what used to take 30 to produce.

As families gather this year for Thanksgiving, we hope the lessons of our forefathers do not get lost in the hubbub of the festivities. As bad as these times may be, there still is much for which we can be thankful to God. We have life, liberty, property and our families. Thank the Lord.

But we should also pray that in these times we respond the way the Pilgrims did: with the perseverance, character and hope to find our way to better days. A blessed Thanksgiving to all.

+ Thanksgiving spoiler
While many Americans will focus their attention today on giving thanks for their families and feasts, an enormous threat looms over the American people.

Sadly, however, America’s three top political and legislative leaders — Obama, Reid, Pelosi — as well as their Democratic colleagues are ignoring it: the national debt.

Every intelligent American is talking about it. It’s consuming the news columns and commentaries. To wit:
Last weekend’s Wall Street Journal: “Each (health-care bill) sets up a new entitlement program that grows at 8% annually as far as the eye can see — faster than the economy will grow, faster than tax revenues will grow and just as fast as the already-broken Medicare and Medicaid programs … It is a dramatic statement to financial markets that the federal government does not understand that it must get its fiscal house in order.”

Even the New York Times sees it: “Even as Treasury officials are racing to lock in today’s low rates by exchanging short-term borrowings for long-term bonds, the government faces a payment shock similar to those that sent legions of overstretched homeowners into default on their mortgages.

“With the national debt now topping $12 trillion, the White House estimates that the government’s tab for servicing the debt will exceed $700 billion a year in 2019, up from $202 billion this year, even if annual budget deficits shrink drastically. Other forecasters say the figure could be much higher.

“In concrete terms, an additional $500 billion a year in interest expense would total more than the combined federal budgets this year for education, energy, homeland security and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

When you pray before you partake in your Thanksgiving feast, pray not only for thanks, peace and love.

Pray for a miracle: That Almighty God intervenes and bestows common sense and wisdom in our Washington leaders.

And ask him to put a rush on it.

+ Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving proclamation

WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANKSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and assign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish Constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in publick or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us); and to bless them with good governments, peace and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.


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