Giving Thanks for Liberty
by Robert Alan Hornak


Happy Thanksgiving! When we say that every year we mean you should have a
good meal and spend a pleasant day with your family - hopefully without
fighting. But when we say we are giving thanks, do we understand just what
it is we are thankful for? Is it simply for the food we are blessed with, or
our good fortune? Or is the atmosphere that gave us the freedom to pursue
our dreams from which our success flows? In other words - Liberty.

We are familiar with the story of the Pilgrims and how they came to America
in 1620, fleeing religious oppression in Europe, landing at Plymouth Rock,
and surviving a harsh winter to celebrate the harvest with their new
neighbors, the Indians. But what do we really know of these people whose
circumstance has become our yearly celebration, and what were the subsequent
events that led to this ritual? To have a complete picture of how this
unfolded and to truly understand the origins of Thanksgiving we must look
back 100 years prior to the arrival of the Pilgrims to the time when the
Americas were first discovered by the Europeans.

Around the time Columbus bumped into North America, English merchants were
busy making a fortune in the wool trade. But by the early 16th Century,
Portuguese merchants started importing silk, cotton and cloth from Asia.
This competition took a big bite out of the wool trade, and English
merchants lost approximately one third of their business. In an attempt to
reclaim their market share, the English looked across the Atlantic to
Spanish America, where Spain had been aggressively colonizing both South and
Latin America. In the new world they sensed great opportunity to peddle
their goods.

The Spanish had a policy of prohibiting their colonists from buying goods
that weren't both made in Spain and transported by Spanish ships.
Mercantilism, the official Spanish trade policy, was radical protectionism
on a scale we could never imagine. However, Spain lacked an artisan class,
and it's goods were expensive and of low quality. Also, extremely high taxes
and custom dues were imposed by the King of Spain.

This was the edge the English needed to break into the Latin American
market. Privateers became extremely wealthy illegally importing goods to the
Spanish colonies. The English Crown also sold "Letters of Marque and
Reprisal" to English Merchants, granting them the authority to invest in the
business of Piracy. Of course, the Crown received 10% of all the goods
plundered from the Spanish. This became a very successful business venture,
with many merchants renting ships and hiring captains to sail the high seas.
Contrary to popular lore, Pirates weren't considered outlaws by the Crown
unless they neglected to pay their Pirating tax.

The heavy losses to Privateers and Pirates so enraged the Spanish that in
1588 they sent a naval Armada to England. In one of the greatest naval
defeats in history, the Spanish lost most of their magnificent fleet. Up to
that time, Spain had ruled the seas. From then on, the English Navy
controlled the waterways and English merchants felt more secure investing in
business in the Americas.

One of the first colonies established by the English was Roanoke, Virginia.
Initially, Sir Walter Raleigh, a former Privateer and Pirate, funded a group
of 150 men to travel to Roanoke to search for gold and silver. After a year,
with no precious metals to be found, they packed up and went home.

Raleigh tried again, but this time instead of men, he sent 60 families
hoping to create a colony with more stability. Four years after the settlers
arrived in Roanoke, Raleigh died in England. Strangely, Raleigh failed to
maintain contact with his settlers, so new investors in his company decided
to send a ship to Roanoke to check on the colony. When the ship arrived,
there were no settlers to be found. In one of history's great unsolved
mysteries, they had disappeared without a trace.

The English subsequently concluded that colonization would require a
different type of investment and management, with control diversified among
a body of responsible partners. A group of English businessmen united to
create a new entity, called the Joint Stock Company. This new creation was
to be run by a Board of Directors, with each Board member responsible for
selling stock in the company to investors. If the company were profitable,
investors would earn dividends.

This was the birth of the modern Corporation, which exists in almost the
same form today. Furthermore, to prevent securities fraud, Stock Markets
were created in Amsterdam in 1600 and England in 1608. These markets were
modeled on the Bourse, a type of commodities market that became popular in
the middle ages. This new and exciting way to pool capital brought a flood
of investors for companies to settle North America. Colonization was about
to become big business.

Many colonies were established by corporations run by adventurous English
investors. These colonies were owned and operated by English corporations,
and the settlers were company employees. Many years later and after many
significant changes, each of those colonies would become part of another
great experiment started by adventurous English colonists which they called
The United States of America. But that's jumping ahead in this story.

Around this time in Europe, the Catholic Church was having it's own problems
with the Reform Movement launched by Martin Luther. In Switzerland, John
Calvin started a Protestant sect based on a strict moral code. He preached
that sexual immorality was the worst of all sins. He also advocated a strong
"work ethic", taught that materialism and making money were not sinful, and
that hard work would keep one pure and away from sin.

These radical notions were contrary to the teachings of the Catholic and
Lutheran churches. Their clergy felt that to make a profit by selling goods
was dishonest, and lending money for profit was usury. Calvin's belief in
the "work ethic" attracted many converts, and Calvinism became so successful
that missionaries were sent throughout Europe to convert the middle class.

The Puritans were an offshoot of the Calvinists, and they were very
successful in England, becoming shopkeepers, merchants, bankers and
landowners, and eventually they came to dominate many local governments.
They opposed the Anglican church, which was based on Catholic liturgy and
rituals, launching a vigorous battle over morals in England. The Puritans
were strongly opposed to drinking, gambling, dancing and wenching (social
relations between unmarried men and women), and used their power to outlaw
these popular activities.

This put the Puritans at odds with Calvinists, who believed in a strong
separation of church and state. The Puritans would have none of that, and
were determined to drive all evil influences out of England. The backlash
from the nobles in the Anglican clergy was strong, and many laws were passed
that restrained the Puritans from practicing their religion. These laws
caused many Puritans to flee the country. Some went to the continent, but
many went to Puritan dominated colonies in America.

One group of lower middle class Puritans, known as Pilgrims, moved to
Holland and found a more friendly environment. However, the culture in
Holland was alien to the Pilgrims and they felt very uneasy living amongst
such a strange people. After a few years in Holland, they rented a ship
called the Mayflower to take them to join their brothers in the new world.

In the fall of 1620 they set out for Jamestown, which was a colony
established by the Virginia Company, a now successful Joint Stock Company.
Unfortunately, fall was a poor time to cross the Atlantic, with very rough
seas accompanying the onset of winter. The Pilgrims were blown way off
course and landed at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. They quickly set up a
colony in Plymouth, but without adequate food to survive the harsh winter in
Cape Cod.

Realizing their desperate situation they set out to insure the survival of
the colony by composing the Mayflower Compact. This was their constitution,
and in it they gave birth to the concept of "one man, one vote". They also
developed good relations with the Wampanoag Indians, their new neighbors.
The Wampanoag were very helpful to the Pilgrims that first winter, aiding
them in their quest for food.

To survive, the Pilgrims became fishermen and fur traders, and when spring
came they planted their first crops. They made one mistake however. Their
farm land was community property and they expected each settler to do an
equal share of the work. This didn't work very well, and many of the
settlers slacked off with only a few doing the work.

This caused a great deal of fighting and a poor harvest. The settlers needed
to rethink their communal arrangement. Instead they gave individual plots of
land to each settler and now everyone was responsible for their own
survival. It was very obvious when someone wasn't doing their share and they
suffered for their lack of initiative by their own hand.

That year the harvest was bountiful, with more food than they could eat. The
Pilgrims reaped what they had sown and together with their good friends the
Wampanoag Indians, they had a massive celebration. This 3 day festival was
the very first Thanksgiving. But there's a great deal more to this story.

The Pilgrims never planned to be on their own, and they didn't have a legal
charter for their colony. Eventually, Plymouth was absorbed by the
Massachusetts Bay Colony, another Joint Stock Company owned by the
Massachusetts Bay Company. In 1630 the company established the port city of
Boston, and for sometime thereafter each year 5,000 Puritans were relocated
from Europe to Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Bay Company organized more towns throughout the colony.
They instituted regular town meetings in each so company officials could
address the settlers about the latest company rules and regulations. A
strict Puritan code was enforced, and the company hired all magistrates,
judges, police and other local officials. They also implemented a police
informer network to make sure the settlers adhered to their values.

Many settlers objected to the oppressive atmosphere created by the company,
but instead of being given a chance to generate support for their ideas,
dissenters were quickly expelled from the colony. Some outcasts went on to
start their own colonies far beyond the reach of the company.

Roger Williams, who opposed mandatory church attendance, created Rhode
Island and introduced the Baptist faith to the Americas. Anne Hutchinson,
who demanded a role for women in the church, eventually settled in Suffolk
County. And Rev. Thomas Hooker, who objected to the strict dress code and
the police informer network, became the founder of the State of Connecticut.

The strict nature of the company and its abuse of authority eventually led
to it's demise. In the 1680's, a slave girl, who had organized a witches'
coven, accused many innocent people of witchcraft. This set off a frenzy of
accusations across Massachusetts and by the summer of 1690 150 people had
been arrested and 20 executed. The episode finally ended when the wife of
the Governor was accused of witchcraft. The Governor promptly suppressed the
trials.

But the damage was already done. By 1691 the Massachusetts Bay Company was
liquidated and Massachusetts became a democratic colony. The town hall
meeting became the cornerstone of the new democracy, and the Pilgrims
principle of "one man, one vote" became law. The Pilgrims tradition of
celebrating Thanksgiving also survived, and has been observed ever since.

That tradition was later to become an official holiday. In 1863, while the
country was being rocked by civil war, Abraham Lincoln established the
holiday of Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November. In 1939,
Franklin Roosevelt temporarily moved Thanksgiving back to the third Thursday
of November to stimulate Depression-era Christmas sales. This is where it
temporarily remains to this day.

The decisions to explore and settle the Americas were purely business
driven. And the freedom to do so was achieved with military superiority. The
Pilgrims ­ possibly the original Republicans ­ were very pro-business, but
sought to maintain a strict social code. This policy served them well for a
while, but just like today, they eventually loosened their code in the face
of "competition" from neighboring colonies.

Periods of severe oppression have historically been followed by periods of
great social or scientific growth, like the Renaissance. While a culture can
be oppressed by tyrannical leaders, the human spirit can't be stifled and
will always gravitate toward liberty. But the significance of this story is
that, for the first time in human history, a society was built on the
foundation of freedom, with unrestrained capitalism as its bedrock.

Some will always attempt to roll back our freedom, seeking those "simpler"
times, when tyrants could easily rule the world. But the success of those
weary travelers almost 400 years ago changed everything. They paved the way
for the society we have today, and most certainly they would be proud.

Today, many people defame corporations without realizing that they are even
more American than apple pie. While some companies have their flaws, just as
people do, we can't ignore the reality that without the creation and
proliferation of the corporation, this country wouldn't be what it is, and
may never have been at all. An environment that protects liberty must be
built on a pro-capitalist foundation that includes corporations - the
business equivalent of freedom of association.

So when you hear somebody complain that Thanksgiving has become too
commercial, proudly exclaim, "Yes, just as it was intended to be!"

Happy Thanksgiving!