Irony seems to pervade so much of one’s life these days, that often it is worth it, to just stop and enjoy some of that irony, especially on this all important American holiday of Thanksgiving. While the Americans seem to affix the holiday’s meaning to the first arrival of settlers to the new land, the Canadian version which falls earlier in the fall, has more to do with being thankful for the year’s harvest. Either way, the Turkey loses.
Those early pilgrims to America are often written of the ones that landed in New England, in the tens of thousands, leaving their European homelands as persecuted Christians, and seeking a new way of life free of such persecution (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_colonization_of_the_Americas ). While there is no doubt that the colonization of America did erupt during those years between 1620 – 1690, Columbus’ landing in 1492 was usurped only by the Vikings landing in Newfoundland in the 11th Century ( L’Anse aux Meadows – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L’Anse_aux_Meadows ) . A full 400 years earlier than the infamous Spanish Conquistadors.
As Columbus’ expeditions continued and more and more people migrated to America in search of free land and free thought, European diseases, such as small pox and influenza, spread ahead of the colonization, wiping out roughly 20 Million Native Americans (90%). And that was prior to the Cowboys and Indians era!!
With each new ship that was landing on the shores, the persecuted, the persecutors (in those same religions) and the idealists arrived, each one laying claim to a little piece of land where new (and old) ideas could flourish. The Monarchy and the Religion were one in jolly old England, in fact believing that God himself spoke to the Royals in order to help with the day to day affairs of such a commonwealth. As their jails overflowed with heretics, upon release, many of them picked up their families to travel to the new world. As they did go, so did the missionaries and priests behind them in hopes of saving their heathen souls. While the Puritans were first in their New England tea party, the Quakers, led by William Penn were not far behind.
Penn’s writings serve as a basis for much of the U.S. Constitution ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Penn ) ), as he trod upon his new land of Penn Sylvania (latin for trees), naming Philadelphia, Greek for Brotherly Love. His numerous incarcerations in England had left him wanting a kinder gentler land whereby all people ‘were equal under God’, whoever they called their God to be, and they could assemble for this purpose if this desired, wherever they desired. During one of his internments in England, he tested one of the newly created laws, and helped Habeus Corpus come into British Law. Each person does deserve his day and court, and he saw that he got it.
Penn was anti-slavery, anti war, and believed that there should be only 2 crimes punishable by death, Treason and Murder. This flew in the face of common British law which had more than a hundred crimes punishable by death. As Penn became the Governor, Mayor and city planner of one of America’s first cities, he was able to lay the ground work of the first truly secular society. As new Quakers ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quaker ) fled from England and Europe to settle in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, they began to broach into New England’s Puritan territory, where they were pushed back vigorously. William Penn held fast to his secular notions though, drafting his Frame of Government document ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pennsylvania_Charter_of_Privileges ) , seen today, as a historical precursor of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, seeking religious tolerance, freedom and democracy. He welcomed all religions.
On this day of thanks, 315 years later, is it possible to revisit that Charter of Rights and Freedoms and see William Penn’s ideals? The ideals of a free and just nation, free to religions, free to forward thought, and absent of war, in truly making each of us ‘equal under God’, whatever and whomever one perceives that to be. Above all else keeping ANY religious doctrine out of government and enabling, nourishing, and sustaining individuals in believing in what they want to believe in – real or imagined.