Thanksgiving : Past, Present, and Future

By Daniel Downs

America was founded upon the thanksgiving of our British ancestors, the Pilgrims. As part of a joint-stock adventure and a gospel mission, they set out to establish the first colony in Virginia. Although they missed their original destination by a few miles, they were thankful for surviving the perils they had endured during the journey across the Atlantic Ocean. They landed on the eastern seacoast just in time for winter. As they explored the coastal desert for a suitable place for shelter, they looked heavenward with thankful hearts for food. About a dozen of the Pilgrims followed a small group of evasive Indians to a deserted camp where they found corn and fish stored underground. This food held them over for the winter. When spring arrived, almost half of the original 100 had died of disease that had spread throughout the region decimating many Indian villages too. That meant that 50 survived both the ravaging disease as well as the harsh cold winter storms. They were thankful for this too. As the sun was warming up the spring air, their hope was thawing too because several friendly Indians arrived willing to help. Yes, they were thankful for those special brave men who were to teach them how to thrive in what seemed a barren dessert land in peace with the native tribes.

The following is a relative brief account penned by William Bradford, who was to become the governor of growing Plymouth Plantation state.

About the 16th of March (1620) “a certain Indian came boldly amongst them, and spoke to them in broken English, which could well under- stand, but marveled at it. He became profitable to them in acquainting them many things concerning the state of the country….” He knew about the English other parts of the country as well as about many of the Indian tribes. His name was Samaset; he told them also of another Indian whose name was Squanto, a native of this place, who had been in England & could speak better English than himself.” After a period of entertaining and exchanging gifts with the Indians, Squanto and the local Indian chief Massasoyt came and made a peace treaty between his tribal people and the Pilgrims, which last 24 years.

Squanto continued with them, and was their interpreter, and was a special instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectations. He directed them how to [plant] their corn, where to take fish, and to procure other commodities, and was also their pilot to bring them to unknown places for their profit, and never left them until he died.”

During that spring, they began to plant their corn, in which service Squanto greatly helped them, showing them both how to plant it and how to preserve and prepare it. Also he told them that except they got fish and placed it underground, it would come to nothing. He showed many other things that helped them to thrive in the new land.

Yes, the Pilgrims were thankful for the continued providence and blessing of God who “was with them in all their ways,” and who blessed “their outgoings and incomings, for which let his holy name have the praise for ever, to all posteritie.”

Who is their posterity? All Americans should regard themselves as posterity of the Pilgrims for several reasons:

(1) The Pilgrims’ Mayflower Compact is the first of many similar civil compacts that culminated in our very similar national compact called the Declaration of Independence and the ensuing laws defined as Constitutions. If you read both the Mayflower Compact and the Declaration simultaneously, you will see the apparent pattern of similarities. (To see the full text of the Mayflower Compact, click here.)

(2) Because our national heritage goes back to the founding of Plymouth and Jamestown, we can count ourselves the spiritual, political, and legal posterity of the Plymouth Pilgrims. This heritage resembles the formation of the ancient nation of Israel. Exodus was more than liberation from slavery; it was the beginning of democracy. Israel became a nation through a political covenant by the unanimous consent of the people. As all legitimate covenants, the consensual agreement was between the people and God. So it was with the Pilgrims and the Mayflower Compact, which was the same type of two-part compact that was later to establish and define American as nation. Both the Mayflower Compact and Declaration incorporated a covenant with God and a social contract between themselves. This is what the Second Continental Congress created in 1776.

The representative federalism of our republican Constitution makes the original goals and rights reality. Our national compact of Declaration and Constitution is an inheritance of all American citizens that requires faithful adherence to this rule of law. Consequently, the same type of covenant and social contract that began with the Pilgrims was incorporated in our national compact that benefits and obligated all past, present, and future citizens.

The progressive socialists/secularists may hate this fact, but it is the legal basis of our national independence and constitution law.

Today, we Americans have much to be thankful for. If we have a place to live with heat in the winter and cooling in the summer, we have more than our Pilgrim ancestors as well as many peoples around the world. If we have sanitized water and good food, we have more than our Pilgrim ancestors and millions of people in many countries. If we have seasonal clothing, we have more than both our Pilgrim ancestors and a great many people across the globe. If we have access to good education and adequate health care, we have much more than both our Pilgrim ancestors and thousands of people both in America and in many other nations. Many of America’s poor enjoy many luxuries and technological innovations that few people in the world enjoy. If we actually enjoy those God-given rights enumerated in the both Declaration and secured through Constitutional law, we Americans still enjoy what multiple millions still do not enjoy.

Yet, these God-given blessings and benefits of prosperity are now in jeopardy of being lost. What we Americans take for granted are threatened by the misguided efforts to prop up unsustainable economic growth based on ever-increasing debt. If trends analysts are correct, the future of those blessings may come to a terrible end. More importantly, the covenantal foundation of our freedom and prosperity has been cast aside for an anti-religious and amoral agenda of those who care more about their global profits and power than the common good of all their people.

In a nation that seems to worship many gods including self, profit, hedonistic pleasures, entertainment, and their own accomplishments, the Pilgrims and members of the Second Continental Congress I think would appreciate Psalms 138, which states:

I will give you [God] thanks with all of my heart; I will sing praises to you before the gods.
I will bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your lovingkindness and your truth; for you have magnified your word according to your name.
On the day I called, you answered me; you made me bold with strength in my soul.
All the kings of the earth will give thanks to you, O Lord, when they have heard the words of your mouth.
And they will sing of the ways of the Lord, for great is the glory of the Lord. (vv. 1-5)

I see that Psalm as a prophetic song that speaks of America’s future as well as of the entire world. Let’s hope we may sing it too without any perils predicted by both trends analysts and our nation’s founders. Now is the time to thank God as did the Pilgrims, the Puritans, and most members of the Second Continental Congress for all of our material, political, and spiritual blessings while hope and thanksgiving buys America more time.

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