All people that on Earth do dwell,
Sing to the LORD with cheerful voice.
Him serve with mirth his praise forth tell.
Come ye before Him and rejoice.
The LORD ye know is God indeed.
Without our age He didst us make.
We are his folk He doth us feed
And for his sheep He doth us take.
O, enter then His gates with praise
With voice of song His courts unto.
Praise, laud and magnify His name
For it is seemly for to do.
Because the LORD our God is good
His mercy is forever sure.
His truth endureth for all time
And shall from age to age endure.
(Old Hundredth, from memory).
Perhaps few will enter into God's gates with thanksgiving this season. Our children are increasingly told that the holiday exists to give thanks to the Indians for their help to the Massachusetts Bay settlers, and we have had a Secretary of Education who, back in the 1990's, publicly said that she could not identify with the Puritans' story (apparently, the Eastern Orthodox or Maronite Christian grandparents of Donna Shalala got along simply famously as Dhimmi subjects of the Ottoman Turks back in Syria and Lebanon, and came to the USA simply for socioeconomic betterment).
Yet anyone who has bothered to read a book older than the 1960's knows that the Pilgrim fathers gave thanks to Almighty God for their deliverance. Indeed, the troubles they faced in both Old and New England were daunting.
In 1603, Puritans dared to hope that James VI of Scotland might prove sympathetic to their cause. He had, after all, been raised by a more thoroughly Reformed church, and had been tutored by none other than George Buchanan, who had served as second moderator of the Reformed Kirk's General Assembly. Buchanan also advocated the constitutionalist and anti-absolutist doctrines held by most of Reformed Europe, the Puritans included. Yet these hopes were dashed when James spoke ill of both Buchanan and the Scots Presbyterian Melville, then told the English Puritans that he would "harry you from the land"--thereby sowing the seeds for three-quarters of a century of sectarian discord in Britain.
As for the northern parts of Virginia, as the Puritans called them, the land was desolate. Smallpox, working its way northwards from Mexico, had decimated the aboriginal population of the entire hemisphere. That Squanto, much less any Indian, was on hand to teach the settlers how to live in their new environment was by no means assured. The land was further cursed with winters far more bitter than those of England; and a much less fertile soil.
Today it is the fashion to curse the Puritans for their later wars and displacements of the indigenous peoples. Yet, would one that had not known their imprint have been a better one for humanity?
Americans pride themselves on their constitutionalism and consensual government. These might well have been unknown but for the settlement of Puritans and other Calvinists on these shores. We see the triumph of the anti-slavery cause as a progressive chapter in our history; yet it might not have come without the prickly Puritan conscience. As early as the 1690's, the Puritan judge Samuel Sweall viewed the "peculiar institution" with alarm; and it was from heirs of the Puritans that the anti-slavery cause received its strongest support.
While the Puritans envisioned a closed society of their own, a kind of non-liberal democracy (as political scientists might describe it), their ideas of political compact and consensual government have given hope and made possible the blessings modern Americans enjoy. Their biblicism demanded literacy; their sense of calling early on generated missionary work among the indigenous peoples, and prompted the translation of the Scriptures into Algonkin by Elliot. So, in their own way, they even sowed the seeds of universal education and--gasp!--multiculturalism.
So, let Thanksgiving of 2009 truly be a times of thanks--to those who made survival in the wilderness possible, to the heritage bequeathed by the Puritans, and, most of all, to Almighty God.