Another Perspective on the Mayflower Compact and the Pilgrims

A previous post provided a positive view of the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower Compact and the Pilgrims who wrote and signed it. A vastly different perspective on these topics has been provided by Joshua Zeitz, an American historian and contributing editor of Politico.[1]

He starts with a positive note. “The Pilgrims wrote and  “signed the Mayflower Compact, which arguably planted the first democratic seeds in New World. The same Pilgrims . . . transported a strain of Christian millennialism to America that influenced the development of political culture throughout the United States.”

However, Zeitz says their Colony of Plymouth “was a small, struggling outpost that never achieved the prosperity or influence of its close cousin, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, settled 10 years later by non-separatist Puritans. . . . Puritanism—both in Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay—fell into a state of decline within a generation of each colony’s founding. Ultimately, the political and religious culture the Pilgrims and Puritans built had little to do with the nation we became—it shaped neither the republican revolution against Parliament and Crown in the 18th century nor America’s evolution into a diverse and boisterous democracy in the 19th century.”

“From the start, the Puritan project faced steep challenges. A large number of Mayflower passengers were ‘strangers’—servants or craftsmen who were necessary to the settlement but did not share in the separatists’ religious faith. . . . Local conditions were also trying. . . . Plymouth remained a small and relatively poorer society of fishermen and small farmers.”

Moreover, “by the 1660s large numbers of residents of both colonies were not baptized church members. . . . Whereas upward of 80 percent of Plymouth and Massachusetts settlers belonged to churches in the 1640s, by the 1670s that portion had fallen to as low as 30 percent.” In other words, “[f]ar from laying the foundation of American political and religious culture, the Puritan settlers, separatists and non-separatists alike, built an inward, particular religious community that frayed within three generations of their arrival in the New World.”

Zeitz  concludes by saying that there has been little public note of “this year’s 400th anniversary of the [Mayflower Compact and the] Plymouth landing, in contrast to the [current] spirited debate over [the introduction of slavery in the Virginia colony in] 1619,[2][ and that this contrast] reflects the right priorities. We still grapple with the legacy of slavery in ways both profound and worrying, and the impulse to claim the mantle of ‘true Americans’ hasn’t left our politics. But we can be thankful that the Pilgrim’s world of ‘invisible saints’ and unregenerate sinners, of closed communities and neo-theocracy, has little to do with the America we know, nor has it for a very long time.”

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[1] Zeitz, How America Outgrew the Pilgrims, Politico (Nov. 25, 2020).

[2] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: The 1619 Project Commemorates the Arrival of Slavery in the U.S. (Oct. 20, 2019); Prominent Historians and New York Times Officials’ Comments About the 1619 Project (Aug. 12, 2020); Senator Cotton Continues Criticism of the 1619 Project, (Aug. 10, 2020); Historian Wilentz’ Response to Senator Tom Cotton on the Issue of Slavery (Aug. 11, 2020); Evaluation of the Report of the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights and Its Endorsement by Secretary Pompeo, (Aug. 3, 2020).

 

Giving Thanks for Refugees and Other Immigrants 

On Thanksgiving Day 2020 I give thanks for the courage and fortitude of immigrants in my own family and of refugees and other immigrants in the U.S..

Personal Ancestral Immigrants

My earliest immigrant ancestor, to my knowledge, was William Brown (my seventh maternal great-grandfather), who left England as a young boy before 1686 to come to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, eventually settling in Leicester, MA, where he was one of its early settlers and officer of the town in various capacities. [1]

His grandson (my fifth maternal great-grandfather) was Perley Brown, who was born on May 23, 1737 in Leicester, MA, where later he was a Minuteman and then fought for the colonists in the American Revolutionary War at the Battle of Bunker Hill and was killed in the Battle of White Plains, NY under the command of General George Washington.[2]

My first maternal great-grandparents, Sven Peter Johnson and Johanna Christina Magnusson (Johnson), were born and married in Sweden and emigrated to the U.S. sometime before 1881, when their daughter (my maternal grandmother), Jennie Olivia Johnson (Brown), was born on February 28, 1881, in Ottumwa, Iowa.[3]

My paternal first great-grandfather, Johann N. Kroehnke (John Krohnke) was born on November 26, 1839 in Holstein, Prussia and emigrated to the U.S. circa 1867 and denounced Allegiance to the King of Prussia (William I?)  when he applied for U.S. citizenship in Davenport, Iowa on October 9, 1867 and received his U.S. naturalization papers on March 7, 1871. He settled in Benton County, Iowa, where he met Elizabeth Heyer, who was born October 13, 1847 in Krofdorf, Prussia?, but the dates of her arrival in the U.S. and obtaining U.S. citizenship are unknown. The two of them were married on December 26, 1871 in that same Iowa county. Thus, she is my first paternal great-grandmother. [4]

To determine whether there are additional immigrants in my family tree, I need the assistance of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.[5]

Refugees and Other Immigrants

I also give thanks for the courage and fortitude of the millions of refugees and other immigrants who have come to the U.S. and who have become U.S. citizens, a few of whom as a pro bono lawyer I helped obtain asylum as their first step for obtaining U.S. citizenship. I thank them for helping me learn about their personal histories and later introducing me to the moving experience of U.S. naturalization ceremonies, when they obtained their U.S. citizenship. (I also was the pro bono attorney for an Afghan man for his interview for U.S citizenship.)[6]

One such ceremony was in Minnesota in February 2016 when U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank before swearing in the new citizens, said, ““We are a better country now than we were five minutes ago. We are better with you than without you.”  The Judge  added that three of his five daughters were naturalized citizens.[7]

Ed Collins of Wilmington, Delaware recently wrote about his attending such a ceremony 35 years ago at San Francisco’s Masonic Temple at the invitation of a friend from college. Collins said he “was stunned upon arrival to see around 150 applicants and 300 or so friends and relatives in the auditorium. A judge led the ceremony supported by a military color guard and a small military band. The judge spoke eloquently about the duties of citizenship as well as its privileges. All joined in lustily singing a number of patriotic songs. Finally, the judge led the applicants in swearing allegiance to the U.S. and then pronounced them citizens of the U.S.”[8]

Collins added, “An amazing roar of cheering, applause, laughing and crying swept the room. I have never seen such a large display of emotion and total joy. That moment led me to understand the value that these good people placed on U.S. citizenship. I urge every American to attend a naturalization ceremony at least once. You won’t look upon U.S. citizenship the same way again, and you won’t take your citizenship for granted.”

Even more inspiring was the December 2015 naturalization ceremony at Washington, D.C.’s Rotunda of the National Archives Museum, where the original Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights are permanently displayed on the 224th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights. The welcome of the new citizens was given by President Obama. Here are some of his remarks that day:[9]

  • “To my fellow Americans, our newest citizens. You are men and women from more than 25 countries, from Brazil to Uganda, from Iraq to the Philippines.  You may come from teeming cities or rural villages.  You don’t look alike.  You don’t worship the same way.  But here, surrounded by the very documents whose values bind us together as one people, you’ve raised your hand and sworn a sacred oath.  I’m proud to be among the first to greet you as “my fellow Americans.”
  • “Just about every nation in the world, to some extent, admits immigrants.  But there’s something unique about America.  We don’t simply welcome new immigrants, we don’t simply welcome new arrivals — we are born of immigrants.  That is who we are.  Immigration is our origin story.  And for more than two centuries, it’s remained at the core of our national character; it’s our oldest tradition.  It’s who we are.  It’s part of what makes us exceptional.”
  • “And perhaps, like some of you, these new arrivals might have had some moments of doubt, wondering if they had made a mistake in leaving everything and everyone they ever knew behind.  So life in America was not always easy.  It wasn’t always easy for new immigrants.  Certainly it wasn’t easy for those of African heritage who had not come here voluntarily, and yet in their own way were immigrants themselves.  There was discrimination and hardship and poverty.  But, like you, they no doubt found inspiration in all those who had come before them.  And they were able to muster faith that, here in America, they might build a better life and give their children something more.”
  • “We can never say it often or loudly enough:  Immigrants and refugees revitalize and renew America.  Immigrants like you are more likely to start your own business.  Many of the Fortune 500 companies in this country were founded by immigrants or their children.  Many of the tech startups in Silicon Valley have at least one immigrant founder.”
  • “We celebrate this history, this heritage, as an immigrant nation.  And we are strong enough to acknowledge, as painful as it may be, that we haven’t always lived up to our own ideals.  We haven’t always lived up to these documents.”
  • “And the biggest irony of course is that those who betrayed these values were themselves the children of immigrants.  How quickly we forget.  One generation passes, two generation passes, and suddenly we don’t remember where we came from.  And we suggest that somehow there is ‘us’ and there is ‘them,’ not remembering we used to be ‘them.’”
  • “The truth is, being an American is hard.  Being part of a democratic government is hard.  Being a citizen is hard.  It is a challenge.  It’s supposed to be.  There’s no respite from our ideals.  All of us are called to live up to our expectations for ourselves — not just when it’s convenient, but when it’s inconvenient.  When it’s tough.  When we’re afraid.  The tension throughout our history between welcoming or rejecting the stranger, it’s about more than just immigration.  It’s about the meaning of America, what kind of country do we want to be.  It’s about the capacity of each generation to honor the creed as old as our founding:  “E Pluribus Unum” — that out of many, we are one.”
  • “That is what makes America great — not just the words on these founding documents, as precious and valuable as they are, but the progress that they’ve inspired.  If you ever wonder whether America is big enough to hold multitudes, strong enough to withstand the forces of change, brave enough to live up to our ideals even in times of trial, then look to the generations of ordinary citizens who have proven again and again that we are worthy of that.”
  • “That’s our great inheritance — what ordinary people have done to build this country and make these words live.  And it’s our generation’s task to follow their example in this journey — to keep building an America where no matter who we are or what we look like, or who we love or what we believe, we can make of our lives what we will.”
  • “You will not and should not forget your history and your past.  That adds to the richness of American life.  But you are now American.  You’ve got obligations as citizens.  And I’m absolutely confident you will meet them.  You’ll set a good example for all of us, because you know how precious this thing is.  It’s not something to take for granted.  It’s something to cherish and to fight for.”
  • “Thank you.  May God bless you.  May God bless the United States of America.”

Conclusion

Given the recent frequent negative comments about immigrants, especially in the rural areas of the U.S., it would be instructive to have such naturalization ceremonies broadcast live in all parts of the states where they occur. Another source of information and inspiration for all current U.S.  citizens is the recent widespread statements of governors justifying their support for resettlement of refugees in their states. [10]

Pope Francis also provides a religious justification for welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating refugees and other immigrants.[11]

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[1] Carol W. Brown, William Brown: English Immigrant of Hatfield and Leicester, Massachusetts and His Descendants, c. 1669-1994, at 1-4 (Gateway Press, Baltimore, MD 1994).

[2] Id. at 17-27.  See also these posts to dwkcommentaries: Watertown, Massachusetts, 238 Years Ago (April 20, 2013); The American Revolutionary War’s Siege of Boston, April 19, 1775-March 17, 1776 (July 27, 2012); The American Revolutionary War’s Battle of Bunker Hill, June 17, 1775 (July 30, 2012); The American Revolutionary War’s Campaign for New York and New Jersey, March 1776-January 1777 (Aug. 13, 2012); The American Revolutionary War’s Battle of Brooklyn (Long Island), August 1776 (Oct. 8, 2012); The American Revolutionary War: The Battle of Harlem Heights, New York, September 1776 (Oct. 10, 2012); The American Revolutionary War: The Battle of White Plains, October 1776 (Oct. 12, 2012). George Edwin Brown and Jennie Olivia Johnson Brown, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 17, 2013); n.1 supra at 267.

[4] Hansen, The Heyers From Krofdorf to Keystone at 9, 19 (Amundsen Publishing Co., Decorah, IA 1977).

[5] Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., PBS.org.

[6] Becoming a Pro Bono Asylum Lawyer, dwkcommentaries.com (May 24, 2011).

[7] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Naturalized U.S. Citizens: Important Contributors to U.S. Culture and Economy (June 7, 2015); Minnesota Welcomes New Citizens (June 8, 2015); Another U.S. Citizenship Naturalization Ceremony (Feb. 18, 2016).

[8] Collins, Letter: A U.S. Naturalization Ceremony to Remember, W.S.J. (Nov. 23, 2020). Collins was prompted to write his article by reading another about a recent naturalization ceremony attended by Wall Street Journal columnist Jo Craven McGinty. (McGinty, More Green Card Holders Are Becoming U.S. Citizens, W.S.J. (Nov. 13, 2020).)

[9] President Obama Welcomes New U.S. Citizens with Inspiring Challenge, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 16, 2015)(contains full text of Obama’s speech).

[10] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. State and Local Governments’ Justifications for Consenting to Resettlement of Refugees (December 31, 2019); Five More States Have Consented to Refugee Resettlement (Jan.7, 2020); U.S. State Governments Celebrate Refugees’ Accomplishments (Feb. 2, 2020).

[11] Pope Francis Reminds Us to Welcome, Protect, Promote and Integrate Refugees and Other Migrants, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 1, 2020).