Our freedoms were secured by Pilgrims

Freedom New Mexico

Conscience is powerful human resource. A life lived in service to truth that abides in one’s conscience can transform lives and circumstances. And, as history sometimes witnesses, matters of conscience can make all the difference in the world to ordinary people forced into extraordinary choices. This is the Pilgrim’s journey and a valued part of American heritage that we celebrate this Thanksgiving. For the broader Pilgrim journey reveals conscience-driven paths that bore blessings that Americans still reap today.

Religious persecution compelled the Pilgrim flight to America. English “nonconformists” who disagreed with England’s state church were driven underground with an act against religious assemblies in 1593. At that time, “separatist” Puritans who wanted to worship God in congregations apart from the state-sanctioned church were considered treasonous. Plymouth Colony governor William Bradford describes the “separatist” plight in his journal, “Of Plymouth Plantation”:

“(S)ome were taken and clapped up in prison, others had their houses beset and watched night and day, and hardly escaped their hands; and the most were fain to flee and leave their houses and habitations and the means of their livelihood.”

Amid these troubles a few “separatists” envisioned a new world where their right to public assembly anchored free speech and freedom of worship. Moreover, they believed that affliction in pursuit of those freedoms was preferable to prison or sanctions that refused to let them live in good conscience before the God they loved.

So, in due course, driven by conscience, “separatists” who trusted in God’s goodness and providence transformed themselves into pilgrims in search of a new world. In 1607-1608 they sailed to Holland. In 1620 they left for America and encountered a storm-ravaged voyage.

During the first New England winter the fledgling Plymouth community reaped sickness and death. In Bradford’s words, “scarce 50 remained.” Yet by fall 1621, with the help of their new American Indian friends, the Pilgrims had achieved a modest harvest and threw a party for everyone — the forerunner of today’s Thanksgiving celebration.

Slowly the settlers began to thrive, and others took notice. Between 1630 and 1640 more than 18,000 English Puritans fled to America. These early colonies grew so quickly in the wake of England’s “nonconformist” persecution that we suspect that, if not for the Pilgrim and Puritan vision for a freer society, America might be a very different place today.

So this Thanksgiving we praise the Pilgrims’ dogged determination to secure the freedoms of association, religion and speech for themselves and for the generations that followed.

Yet we are also soberly reminded that affliction often accompanies freedom’s course. And so we are thankful for and do not take lightly these blessings so earnestly sought by the Pilgrims. For those freedoms, now anchored in our Constitution, preserve every American’s right to live in good conscience before God and country, and consequently, are worth pursuing, pondering and protecting forever.

Happy Thanksgiving.