We are marking a great American anniversary this month. In November 1620 a battered old ship called the Mayflower arrived in the waters off Cape Cod in what is now the state of Massachusetts. The passengers aboard the Mayflower were our nation’s first founders — or, as Daniel Webster called them, “Our Pilgrim Fathers.”
Webster delivered a speech to honor these Pilgrims on the 200th anniversary of the Mayflower’s arrival. Calvin Coolidge, then-governor of Massachusetts and president-elect, delivered an address on the 300th anniversary.
Regrettably, we haven’t heard much about this year’s anniversary because the Pilgrims have fallen out of fashion in elite circles. Just this week, The New York Times food section published an article that called the Pilgrim story, including the First Thanksgiving, a “myth” and a “caricature.” In place of these so-called “myths,” the liberal newspaper seeks to substitute its own, claiming the history of our nation is an unbroken tale of conflict, oppression and misery.
But that’s a lie about our country and its founders. No matter what the revisionist historians at the Times cook up, the truth about the Pilgrims is more remarkable than any story or holiday special. This Thanksgiving, it’s worth reflecting on why we celebrate the Pilgrims and their living legacy for our nation.
The Pilgrims were not the first European settlers to arrive in America, but they were exceptional nonetheless. As President John Quincy Adams put it, earlier European settlers were traders and adventurers motivated by “avarice and ambition.” They came principally to fish, farm and trap furs. By contrast, the Pilgrims braved the rough seas “under the single inspiration of conscience,” as Puritan Separatists from the Church of England seeking the freedom to practice their faith.
These Pilgrims distinguished themselves further by drafting a remarkable document to govern their community in the New World: the Mayflower Compact. In this covenant, the ship’s passengers agreed to form a “civil body politic” of “just and equal laws” based on the consent of the governed and dedicated to the “Glory of God” and the “general good of the colony.”
Immediately after signing the compact, the signatories conducted a democratic election to choose their first governor.