The Prototype of the Pilgrims/Puritans
Jesus never addressed the idea of the colonization of other nations in any of His teachings. What Jesus spoke a lot about was how Christians were to treat and interact with other people. One of the simplest and most poignant of His commands is the “Golden Rule”, “Do unto other as you would have them do unto you” Matt. 7:12. This is the formula for all men everywhere. How was this command obeyed by the early English settlers? If you had a farm and some transients decide to set-up housekeeping on a part of your unoccupied land, how would you feel, and what would you do? Keep that in mind as you read.
In the founding of America there is no question that religion played a big part. We can debate whether or not the country was founded on Christian principles, and I would join in that debate, but there is no doubt that religious men and ideas were at the core of settling this country and forming the Constitution on which it is governed. With this article we will take a look at whether or not the Pilgrim Fathers at Plymouth were conscientious followers of Christ, and what other influences prompted their resolves.
For many hundreds of years, since the Reformation, men have debated the roles of faith and works in the areas of salvation and everyday decision making. Does faith translate into Godly action and good works, or does faith stand by itself as a psychological justification for our exploits? We will not debate the question here but we will see the results of two schools of thought played out in the lives of the Pilgrim Fathers and the later Quakers and Anabaptist; the end result being that real faith leads people to obey God’s word and not to mental gymnastics.
It is necessary that we get a picture of the religious landscape that was forming the sentiments of the new settlers coming to America. As I stated in the last article the Protestant Reformation was just beginning to come to a boil. It had been a mere twenty-five years since Columbus, a staunch Catholic, set out to “discover” the new world when Martin Luther, who is widely acknowledged to have started the Reformation, nailed his The Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Saxony in 1517. But, before Luther, as you will recall, the crusade against the Radical Reforming Waldensian people had already taken place. The Albigenses and Waldenses, for several centuries before the Reformation, and the Mennonites in the days of Luther and Calvin, professed a non-resistant doctrine, declared persecution to be contrary to both the letter and the spirit of the Gospel, and insisted on an entire separation of Church and State. The windows of the Age of Biblical Ignorance were opened, the Dark Ages was approaching its end with the word of Truth now being printed in the vernacular, and the Pope was being challenged on his dogmatic intolerance, sacramental magic, flim-flam dictatorial doctrine, and holy hustles.
The Protestant Reformation was underway, but not everyone was protesting to the same degree or reforming in the same way. If by Protestantism one means moral and religious self-sufficiency (being observed in the Renaissance-man) then the Anabaptist differed from the Pilgrim/Puritans in that they considered themselves totally in-sufficient and depended on the only-sufficiency of trust in the words of Jesus. If to take the New Testament literally is Protestantism, then as opposed to Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, the Anabaptists were the real Protestants. The “Protestant Reformation” of Calvin and Luther was more a question of power, order, and submission to the new heirs of Catholic imperialism and not a question of ‘evangelical purity’ or ‘correctness’ that separated the reformers from their persecuted and despised brethren, the Anabaptist. It is true that the orthodox reformers also professed to take the letter of the Scriptures as their guide and also claimed the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But they neither let it guide them straight nor took it as seriously as the Anabaptists; they did not allow themselves to be led by Scripture too far away from the interpretations and ideals of the ruling Protestant princes of Germany, or the military bourgeois in Switzerland; nor did they sever the mystical link of Catholicism completely. They were in fact, all unconsciously no doubt, yet completely and always, the expression of the sober-minded, reasonable, well-balanced national, rising middle-class religionist and Renaissance-man of the sixteenth century.
When we think of the religious liberty enjoyed by Americans today, be informed that it came not from the intolerant Puritan followers of Luther and Calvin, but from the Anabaptists, who procured full religious liberty and church-state separation. Our Pilgrim Fathers, being of the Reformed Puritan mindset, whipped and burned Quakers at the stake, cheated Indians, stole from their houses, amassed weapons, and built forts, not as an act of “faith and trust” in an unseen God, but as a good and reasonable thing to do under the circumstances. Our Anabaptist forefathers played a very important role in America’s democracy with religious liberty for all, but receive none of the credit.
We as a People do not need a Myth to prop us up as a Nation, what we need is the truth. If we can get past all the fabrications: national, scholastic, and religious, we can truly be a Free People who can learn to trust in a real living God who has promised His blessings to the obedient. The Pilgrim Fathers did have many good traits and strengths, that I doubt few would have today in a similar situation. Their faith, although misplaced, was not imaginary; their religious belief undergirded all that they did, but history books have not truthfully recorded what really occurred.
As Americans we like to believe that it is “In God We Trust” and that that attitude started with the Pilgrim Fathers. After Columbus’ debacle of doing everything all-wrong and that the Reformation having now set thing all-right we now have a Nation exemplifying the righteousness of our Godly Founders. The question now has to be asked, to what degree did the Pilgrim Fathers trust God? What does our true history really reveal when compared to the words of Jesus?
What was the General Policy of the English Toward the Indians?
The influence of “Calvinism” during this period of time along with the enrichment of England by the colonization of the New World justified all the rationale concerning the stealing of the land from the Indians in the minds of the Pilgrim Fathers. Native America was never so fortunate in its despicable state of savagery than on the day Sir George Peckham, an English merchant venturer, took it upon himself to explain to all of England how colonization of the Americas would benefit both sides of the Atlantic simultaneously. Peckham promoted his view in his “The Adventures of Colonization.”[i] Peckham creates a picture, for those who would venture to the New World, of savages and cannibals. “The Cannibals, being a cruel kind of people whose food is man’s flesh, and have teeth like dogs, and do pursue them with ravenous minds to eat their flesh, and devour them.”
With this conviction he makes a proclamation that would justify the colonizers taking the land and establishing colonies in a land already inhabited by the Indians. “But if after these good and fair means used, the Savages nevertheless will not be herewithall satisfied, but barbarously will go about to practise violence either in repelling the Christians from their Ports and safelandings, or in withstanding them afterwards to enjoy the rights for which both painfully and lawfully they have adventured themselves thither: Then in such a case I hold it no breach of equitie for the Christians to defend themselves, to pursue revenge with force, and to do whatsoever is necessary for the attaining of their safety: For it is allowable by all Laws in such distresses, to resist violence with violence: And for their more security to increase their strength by building of Forts for avoiding the extremity of injurious dealing.”
In this statement, of course, Peckham establishes the idea that the English have a legal right “For it is allowable by all Laws” to travel without restriction to America and to defend themselves by resisting “violence with violence” in any case where the natives engage in attempts to repel the European invasion of their homeland. Pursuing “revenge with force,” then, against any effort the natives take to defend themselves from the invasion, becomes the accepted standard of behavior for Europeans, a standard that was always perceived as perfectly legal and lawful from the invader’s point-of-view, where the natives themselves seemed to have had a different perception of the matter. One wonders, of course, precisely when and how the “good and fair means” of Christians with the natives turned so quickly and absolutely into a need to build “Forts for avoiding the extremity of injurious dealing,” how and why it got to that point in fact before any significant number of Englishmen even left Europe for the New World. Clearly, the idea that the “force of Arms” Peckham advocates for the purpose of defending defenseless natives from their cannibalistic neighbors, who in fact never existed except in the imaginations of the colonizers, was really meant as a necessary means of protecting the invaders from the violent rejection Peckham expected the natives to bring against his recruits for colonization.
John Cotton, the famous Puritan minister, weighs in with a similar argument that Christians have the right to settle in lands belonging to “savages” in his “The Divine Right to Occupy the Land.” “When He makes a country, though not altogether void of inhabitants, yet void in that place where they reside. Where there is a vacant place, there is liberty for the sons of Adam or Noah to come and inhabit, though they neither buy it nor ask their leaves. . . . So that it is free from that common grant for any to take possession of vacant countries. Indeed, no nation is to drive out another without special commission from Heaven, such as the Israelites had, unless the natives do unjustly wrong them, and will not recompense the wrongs done in a peaceable fort [way]. And then they may right themselves by lawful war and subdue the country unto them- selves. . .”[ii]
As a side note, this scenario is still being played out today. On Wednesday morning (January 6, 2016), Paiute tribal chairwoman Charlotte Rodrique stood before scores of people – including many of the 420-member tribe – at a press conference, saying that the Bundys and their gang were encroaching on land considered sacred to the Paiute people. “This land belonged to the Paiute people as wintering grounds long before the first settlers, ranchers and trappers ever arrived here,” Rodrique said, “We haven’t given up our rights to the land. We have protected sites there. We still use the land.” A long time before this incident occurred Teddy Roosevelt displays no lack of contempt for the Native Indian’s rights in his 1896, four volume book, “The Winning of the West.” He admits it was US policy to kill or conquer the Indians and take their land by any means available.
The War Inevitable.[iii]
In truth the war was unavoidable. The claims and desires of the two parties were irreconcilable. Treaties and truces were palliatives which did not touch the real underlying trouble. The white settlers were unflinchingly bent on seizing the land over which the Indians roamed but which they did not in any true sense own or occupy. In return the Indians were determined at all costs and hazards to keep the men of chain and compass, and of axe and rifle, and the forest-felling settlers who followed them, out of their vast and lonely hunting-grounds. Nothing but the actual shock of battle could decide the quarrel. The display of overmastering, overwhelming force might have cowed the Indians; but it was not possible for the United States, or for any European power, ever to exert or display such force far beyond the limits of the settled country. In consequence the warlike tribes were not then, and never have been since, quelled save by actual hard fighting, until they were overawed by the settlement of all the neighboring lands.
Nor was there any alternative to these Indian wars. It is idle folly to speak of them as being the fault of the United States Government; and it is even more idle to say that they could have been averted by treaty. Here and there, under exceptional circumstances or when a given tribe was feeble and unwarlike, the whites might gain the ground by a treaty entered into of their own free will by the Indians, without the least duress; but this was not possible with warlike and powerful tribes when once they realized that they were threatened with serious encroachment on their hunting-grounds. . . .No treaty could be satisfactory to the whites, no treaty served the needs of humanity and civilization, unless it gave the land to the Americans as unreservedly as any successful war.
Our Dealings with the Indians.
As a matter of fact, the lands we have won from the Indians have been won as much by treaty as by war; but it was almost always war, or else the menace and possibility of war, that secured the treaty.
“Might Makes Right” is a saying that is not only descriptive but prescriptive. Whether it is the might of physique, wealth, intelligence, national strength, conscious or unconscious matters not at all. For the English, pursuing land in the New World, it was nothing else than the prescription of a proud people to lay hold of something they felt they needed and deserved, but belonged to someone else. Stealing from their neighbor across the road was wrong, but stealing from an indigenous people in another world didn’t carry the same force of meaning or consequences. Although “Manifest Destiny” was not a term in use at the time of the Pilgrims, the idea was alive and well and provided all the authority of Heaven to proceed with a clean conscience. English Christians felt that they had the right to come to America and settle on any land that appeared to be vacant. If the Indians objected, which they would of course, then they were justified in annihilating them. This is what the English Christians were saying in more pleasant words, and later, brazenly by Teddy Roosevelt, and today, matter-of-factly by the U.S. Government and the Oregon militia squatting on Paiute Indian land. This attitude is as old as sin itself, and as old as the justification of that same sin, and Christians are not exempt. Sir George Peckham, John Cotton, the Jamestown settlers, the Pilgrims, and the Puritans all implemented the policies described by Teddy Roosevelt. Those policies guaranteed that the settlers and the Indians would not be able to co-exist in peace. Because of this policy one side or the other had to give in, and “Might” made the difference. The end result of this policy was no different than the results of the “Crusades,” genocide.
At the beginning of this article I said we would compare two schools of thought played out in the lives of the Pilgrim Fathers and the later Quakers and Anabaptist, but due to length I am going to cover the thought process of the Quakers and Anabaptist in the next article.
[i] George Peckham, The Advantage of Colonization, 1592, http://reocities.com/athens/delphi/9976/02peckham.html
[iii] Teddy Roosevelt, The Winning of the West, vol. II 1889-1896