In his interesting and funny book, "A Voyage Long and Strange," Tony Horwitz muses on assumptions and truths of the settling of America. He met a tour guide named Claire who advised him that the question most commonly asked is why, instead of 1492, the date 1620 is etched on the rock? Then she explained, "People think Columbus dropped off the Pilgrims and sailed home." They think that Columbus' landing and the Pilgrims' belong to the same story when in reality their arrival occurred a thousand miles and 128 years apart. … "
That made me laugh as how many of us once we learn about 1492 (Columbus sailed the ocean blue) and 1620 keep the facts of the founding of America straight in our heads?
Horwitz makes a point that when the English first settled, there were many other Europeans who had covered half of the 48 states of the continental United States, many of them given little credit or remembered for their brave deeds.
"Even less remembered are the Portuguese pilots who steered Spanish ships along both coasts of the continent in the sixteenth century, probing upriver to Bangor Maine and all the way to Oregon."
Then there were the Spanish who not only explored the territory but as well settled from the Rio Grande to the Atlantic. "… the Spanish gave thanks and dined with Indians — fifty-six years before the Pilgrim Thanksgiving at Plymouth. … Plymouth, it turned out, wasn't even the first English colony in New England. That distinction belonged to Fort St. George in Popham, Maine ..."
The land that the Pilgrims and later the Americans moving west from the Atlantic settled was not a virgin wilderness but was well occupied and had been transformed by European contact.
Then another amusing quote states that, "Samoset, the first Indian they met at Plymouth, greeted the settlers in English. The first thing he asked for was beer."
All that said, it doesn't erase the fact that when the Pilgrims landed on that rocky coast in Massachusetts, it wasn't as bad as Cape Cod but was one of the most miserable places they could have chosen when you think of sunny Florida.
The important point is no matter who came first or where they landed, it was the English who won out as the pattern for which the laws of our land were originally based on. U.S. law has changed in the term of substance and procedure and has also added many civil law innovations, all to the good, but it is the American Constitution that drives the laws of the land.
It was the fervent desire for freedom and democracy and a better life that has led the many different people who have since arrived at America's shores to obey those laws. It was their desire to be incorporated into the fabric of American life that has created our society we have today.
We live in a land of remarkable opportunity, safety and freedom.
However, a warning way back in 1835 by Alexis de Tocqueville gives pause, especially with the division of Congress and the bitter political battles we have all recently witnessed.
"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years."
Let's hope that with the election some unselfish sanity can return to our leaders.
Perhaps it is time to pray over more than the Thanksgiving dinner this year.
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