We have learned that great quests, odysseys, and missions have key elements. They begin with a noble purpose and vision. The individuals behind the vision have a bedrock of principles rooted in natural law. They understand that it’s principles that dictate consequences of actions. Heroes on a quest must possess a moral compass as it is morals that inform personal values and dictate the endurability of the outcome. Such champions of quest are gifted at educating others in harmony of vision, principles, and morals to common purpose and to exercise their liberty. This is how the hero becomes a leader. He or she possesses the ability to persuade, teach, and impact the community at large for good.
The Plan of the Pilgrims
After the pattern of the righteous quest, the Pilgrims came together in democratic common consensus to choose their leaders. They were one of the most successful communities to complete a quest to America and to build a pattern of liberty.
How did they do it? Pastor John Robinson had created a vision of religious freedom that brought them into unity and community purpose. That vision and subsequent journey began in Scrooby England, then on to Leiden Holland, until it finally culminated in America. Robinson would never see America as he opted to stay in Leiden to minister to those who remained. As such our Pilgrim forefathers were mentored by William Bradford who counseled, “All great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties; and must be both met and overcome with answerable courage.”
Bradford, in his wisdom, knew that once courage blossomed, determination and Providence had to take over. To make it to the first Thanksgiving in the fall of 1621 the settlers had to survive almost one full year of blood, toil and tears since they had arrived in November of 1620! How did they do it?
Lessons in Liberty from the the National Monument to the Forefathers
A few weeks ago, I shared the allegorical National Monument to the Forefathers. At the top of the statue is Faith. Faith is pointing her hand up to heaven. A star on her head indicates Divine guidance with echoes of the story of the Magi following the star to Bethlehem. She holds the Geneva Bible in her left hand which represents God’s eternal truth. She faces Plymouth Harbor where the Pilgrims landed and where the sun was rising on a new community and country. It took faith as a community to accept the quest to an unknown land with modest provisions while also possessing limited skills. Their faith was matched by their courage, allowing them to reach for the possibilities of liberty.
Beneath Faith is the seated statue representing Law. In one hand he holds the Rule of Law. The settlers were to be ruled by the harmony of God’s law (both Divine and natural) and the people’s law (civil)—a law they gave to themselves in the Mayflower Compact. They knew that it is law that provides order and is upheld by justice. Indeed, they honored their own laws and understood that none were excused from the consequences of transgressing them. For example, almost 20 years after their arrival members of their group murdered a few of their native neighbors. After a trial, the perpetrators were hung for the crimes of robbery and murder. Mercy is opposite justice and is found as one confesses his errors and makes restitution for his ways. Forgiveness and restitution may then blunt some, but not all, the effects of justice.
Morality is the next statue under Faith. Morality is the law that comes from within and is expressed by duties we owe to each other as neighbors. We hear this in the words of our country’s founding fathers like Washington, Adams, and Jefferson.
No government armed with power is capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion….our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.John Adams to Massachusetts Militia, 11 October 1798
The only protections to freedom we can have confidence in are found in morality and religion. This is represented by the Evangelist who spreads virtue on one side of the statue and the Prophet on the other who sees the past, applies it to the present, and then informs the future.
The third figure under Faith is Education. This female statue is shown holding a bible in one hand with a finger pointing out truths with the other. What is more needed for success in our quests than education that begins in our youth? Knowledge applied in harmony with morality stimulates wisdom. Truths taught and internalized while in our youth provide the path to liberty. As we train up our children in the way they should go, and as they mature, they are not likely to depart from truths. (Proverbs 22:6) Education allows us to speak, read and write to liberate our minds and provide opportunity to ourselves and others.
We now find the culmination of this great experiment in Pilgrim self-government with the figure Liberty. He is represented with a helmet that dons a rising sun reminiscent of the one Franklin noticed on the back of Washington’s chair during the Constitutional Convention. It represented a new order of liberty of Divine guidance. A broken chain in his hand represents breaking the chains of religious tyranny by the European monarchs. Liberty is protected by a sword that is sheathed but ready for service to protect life, agency, and property. On the side of his chair is an angel of peace with an olive branch representing peace. On the other side Liberty puts down all foes of freedom.
Liberty was what allowed the Pilgrim community to ultimately attain their economic freedom from England as well as pay back their benefactors. For the first three years, Plymouth Colony operated as a communal economy while the colonists worked together to fulfill the terms of their contract with the Merchant Adventurers (sponsors and investors of their travel) which took them almost 30 years. But along with their communal farming came a wide disparity of workload—some colonists labored long and hard, while others contributed less. Regardless of any person’s individual effort, the outcome was always the same. It wasn’t long before many in the colony became resentful. (Gallagher, Michelle. Forefathers Monument Guidebook. Proclamation House, Inc., 2021, p.119).
William Bradford wrote, “The failure of this experiment of communal service, which was tried for several years, and by good and honest men, proves the emptiness of the theory of Plato and other ancients, applauded by some of later times, that the taking away of private property, and the possession of it in community by a commonwealth, would make a state happy and flourishing as if they were wiser than God. For this instance, community of property (so far as it went) was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment which would have been to the general benefit and comfort.” (Gallagher, Michelle. Forefathers Monument Guidebook. Proclamation House, Inc., 2021, p.119). Community is an important element to the success of a quest—but when the quest is communal, values and morals must be agreed upon and embodied by all for success to endure.
In the end, the purpose, vision, values, and morals that both guided and rooted the Pilgrims to Plymouth remain what will keep our own liberties safeguarded today. In the early settlement, Faith was the foundation. Law brought order. Morality built virtue. Education liberated freedom. And the result was ordered liberty under God.
Image attribution: Feature image: Scan by NYPL, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons