Thursday, November 24, 2011

Why I Don't "Do" Thanksgiving

On the occasion of the Thanksgiving holiday (which I choose to pass on myself) it is an appropriate time to talk a little about some of the many misconceptions people have about the famous Pilgrim Fathers who landed on Plymouth Rock and established the first foothold of what became the New England colony in North America. The usual, casual narrative is that the pilgrims were people who believed in religious liberty who were forced to leave the British Isles because of the oppression of the Stuart King James I and the established Church of England. They came to the New World to escape this persecution and establish a free society, planting the seeds for what eventually became the United States of America. This is, however, not entirely true. For example, the pilgrims did not actually flee a religiously intolerant monarchy for the untamed wilderness of North America. They actually fled a very religiously tolerant republic for the untamed wilderness of North America. This is no secret, you can find it in almost any history book, yet few people know about it.

The pilgrims were upset with their life in England. They disliked the Anglican church, regarding it as too “Catholic” for their taste and for the pilgrims the Catholics were absolute evil. Even as Puritans went, these were the most extreme. Not only did they few Anglicans and Presbyterians as “too Catholic”, even their fellow Puritans were insufficiently puritanical from their point of view. King James I, when it came to religion, was a fairly tolerant monarch. However, he did not want religion causing divisions and strife in his kingdoms and so restrictions were placed on the pilgrims. Disliking this state of affairs, they decided to move over to the Republic of the United Provinces of the Netherlands. Even those many centuries ago the Dutch had the reputation of being very tolerant and libertarian amongst the nations of Europe. In matters of faith, in the Netherlands there was pretty much complete religious freedom for anyone (except for the Catholics of course on whom there were some restrictions) of any Protestant Christian denomination as well as for Jews.

However, the pilgrims ultimately found life in Holland unsatisfactory. They complained about the lack of tolerance they endured in England, yet in the Netherlands they complained that there was too much tolerance. They feared the numerous religious groups around them would corrupt them and their children and they disliked the licentiousness of those who adhered to no real religion at all. So England was not free enough and Holland was too free, so they decided to go to America. They hopped on the Mayflower and sailed west. For government, the leaders all signed the famous Mayflower Compact, remembered ever since as one of the earliest founding documents of what became the United States centuries later. There are a few things about the Mayflower Compact that many people may not know. The Mayflower Compact was actually a very royalist document, the very first words being a tribute to, “our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith etc”. The document also stressed their loyalty to the King and the hope that their undertaking would do the King and their country honor. Were they sincere? That’s another matter.

At the time (pre-civil war England) royal authority was fairly well accepted as a given. Even the republics of the time such as Venice, Genoa or even the Dutch republic still had royal or at least regal leadership. However, it is hard to imagine that the pilgrims who so loathed the Church of England could have much sincere faith and allegiance for the King was the “Supreme Governor” of that denomination. For those who rejected the Church of England it was not a great leap to at least be lukewarm in their submission to the monarch, especially given how paramount the place of the King was to Anglicans. Although it is mostly ignored today, that is a situation still around today as Anglican canon law still recognizes the Queen as, “the highest power under God in this kingdom, and has supreme authority over all persons in all causes, as well ecclesiastical as civil”. At the very least the pilgrims would have objected to the “ecclesiastical” bit, if nothing else.

Long after Massachusetts became a well established English colony it continued to be the favored place for Puritans to flee to and this increased dramatically during the reign of King Charles I who favored a very traditional, elaborate and, some would say “Catholic” style for the Church of England. Needless to say, although the American colonies played no really significant role in the English Civil War, there were divisions and Massachusetts, because of their Puritan foundation and population, was definitely on the side of Oliver Cromwell. Puritan Massachusetts had opposed the Elizabethan uniformity effort, the Bishops War of King James I and they certainly opposed the direction religion in the British Isles took under King Charles. In fact, after the King was martyred, after the long years of tyranny under Oliver Cromwell and after the restoration of the monarchy under King Charles II, Massachusetts showed how anti-royalist it was by being the very last English colony in America to recognize the Stuart monarch as their rightful King, not doing so until August of 1661.

Successive British monarchs likewise found out how troublesome Massachusetts could be, even as religion was eclipsed by politics as the primary vehicle for the old Puritan hostility toward the Crown. As everyone knows, the colony would finally become the greatest hotbed of revolutionary activity and eventually lead the continent into the American War for Independence against King George III. So, to bring it all back, that is one of the primary reasons I don’t “do” Thanksgiving. That, and I’m not a big fan of the first President to make it a national holiday. We have also discussed here before how the real first thanksgiving was actually celebrated in Texas long before those dour pilgrims ever set foot in New England. So, be assured it is not an issue of ingratitude which prompts me to sit this one out. You may also rest assured I pass no judgment or think any less of those who do celebrate the day as I know most do it for the right reasons (unlike some other holidays). For all who are joining in, I wish you a happy day and I hope you all know that I am thankful for all you, members, subscribers, lurkers and casual readers, who keep up with The Mad Monarchist. I do appreciate you all.


  1. The whole "in search of freedom" story always made me chuckle. Yeah, the Pilgrims wanted freedom - the freedom to establish their own theocratic dictatorship. The Massachusetts Bay they founded bore so little resemblance to the eventual United States (as most modern Americans like to think of it) that it can hardly be considered the "real" birth of America. Certainly the fact that there was already a burgeoning colony in Virginia would mitigate that anyway.

  2. True, they also seem to have a rather selective definition of "America", switching from the continent to the 13 colonies as it serves them. Many people, for some reason, still think these were the "first" when, as you say, there was already a colony in Virginia (which was royalist in the civil war I might add) and of course there were Spaniards marching all over La Florida, Texas and the southwest long before that.

  3. I may join your ranks! (People will no doubt presume I've become a Jehova's Witness) I think from now on I'll do Thanksgiving on St Martin's Day.
    Actually, I'd like to start a movement that holds back on celebrating Christmas before December 24th - and then celebrates Winter thru February 02.

  4. Hello again. I think I have time today, so here goes.

    Even though I'm not opposed to the celebration of Thanksgiving altogether, what you write is true. The Puritans that fled England (or rather the Netherlands) were what we'd call the extremists.

    There was a meeting I believe sometime early in the 1600s where the dissatisfied Puritan members met up with King James to discuss about the many issues with the Anglican Church. I won't deny that there were some problems, and I think even King James realised that. He did give out some concessions to address some of these issues, and one of the concessions led to the formation of the King James Bible. Britain was the Protestant stronghold of Europe at that time and was ultimately the target of the Catholic nations such as Spain (Gunpowder Plot anyone?).

    Some of the Puritans were satisfied, but many others were quite extreme about it and thought "there is no hope here in England" and so moved out to the Netherlands... until even the Netherlands proved unsatisfactory for the reasons you've stated and had a charter issued by the king to start their own colony in Massachusetts.

    Of course, when King Charles took the throne, he did seem more "Catholic" than Protestant. In fact many things indicated he was more tolerable to Catholics, such as his French wife. Very suspect of a monarch for the English if you ask me. And it still bothers me to this day that it was these very same Protestants who were supportive of Cromwell and the Republican cause. Even though I myself am a Protestant, what these people did was regicide, and I have no sympathy for such traitors.

    And you do bring up a very interesting point; Massachusetts always seems to be the rebel hotbed and all sorts of crazy things start from there. But it also intrigues me that after the American Revolution it was the northern states that were Federalists, who were more supportive for the British than the southern states were, who were considered republicans. At that point, I'm sure Alexander Hamilton would have wanted to crush the south if he had the chance to.

    I don't know... the founding of two different colonies in two different areas for two different reasons (Virginia and Massachusetts) may be the very beginning of the bipartisan nature of America today. At least that's what I'm thinking. In any event, I see why you don't celebrate Thanksgiving but yes, some people do celebrate it to be thankful to God for everything. It's like Christmas; Jesus was not born on 25 December but it is still celebrated at that day. Eh, I'm not sure. I always thought God said always give thanks in every day. Much like modern day Christmas, it seems the whole turkey fest has become something like a commercial thing.

  5. I’ve explained before so hope I am not a bore, and won’t be so long now, that this is simple and readily understood.

    Combine a complete ignorance of History with a Patriotic Zeal and a need for a Coherent national identity and you have the creation of an American Mythology.

    They fit all the large events into a singular narrative as if the events of the history of American Colonisation lead inexorably and inevitably toward the Creation of the United States of America and Independence from Great Britain.

    The Spaniards don’t factor into that, as they aren’t part of the inevitable flow of history and March of Culture. They simply don’t count. Neither do the French, who apparently only colonised Quebec and the lower portions of the modern State of Louisiana.

    No, the Narrative behind America is how English ( Not British, English) Colonists left an oppressive Monarchy that was Religiously intolerant to found a land on Religious Freedom and Diversity. They thrived in America base don the principles of self government and Universal Brotherhood, but still chaffed under the oppressive control of the English (Not British) Kings, who finally exerted such oppressive and tyrannical control and taxed the poor colonists near to death that they were forced to fight a Revolution and win their Freedom.

    This Narrative is a Linear progression of events toward an American Ideology and an Independent American Nation. The Pilgrims are simply interpreted against Modern Ideals and Principle Values and placed in the Narrative. They get to serve as the Starting point forall fo this and thus must represent the seedbed of Liberty and Religious Pluralism.

    They can’t use Jamestown for that, as it never had the Mystique of Religious Freedom as a Motive and thus can’t directly connect to the Narrative. Besides, they were all Anglicans in Jamestown, not Religious Refugees. How do you spin that into the Narrative? AND the Pilgrims were in Massachusetts. As you said, they were the forerunners of those Traitorous Rebels, er, Valiant Heroes who banded together to overthrow the Tyrant King, so they fit better, and the story is more inspiring to Modern Americans, irrespective of the actual facts involved.

  6. Off topic, but I bumped into this while on Youtube...

    I realised though that the host is pro-democracy and saw this as an insult. Oh when will they ever learn...

  7. I also want to point out that I do not doubt that the pilgrims who settled in Massachusetts were God-fearing men and women, and they wanted to settle someplace else to find the right place for them because they apparently thought they could run things better... though Metacom, Salem Witch Trials, Anne Hutchinson, etc says otherwise. I also have no doubt that they wanted to create a Christian settlement and British America did have a Christian founding. However, much of the story was blown out of proportion to make England look like a tyrannical force and that America truly is the land of the free. And as ZAROVE says above, the Spanish and the French are completely pushed out of the picture. Spain actually had a large empire at that time which no one seems to remember because everyone thinks about the British Empire nowadays and how the sun never sets there...

    But look at America now... so far removed from its so-called Christian heritage, huh?


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