2015 SPRING UTAH MAYFLOWER SOCIETY KEYNOTE SPEECH
2015 May 13
I greatly appreciate the privilege of speaking with you tonight. I also appreciate the Utah Society of Mayflower Descendants and what this group is doing to strengthen family and community and to preserve liberty.
The Pilgrims sought liberty; they yearned to breathe free.
Our Pilgrim forefathers and foremothers loved liberty. They yearned to breathe free, long before anyone thought of the Statue of Liberty or Emma Lazarus penned those powerful words that we should ponder more. These Pilgrims, more than most of their compatriots, knew that they should be free, that they must have freedom. We honor and respect them in large part because of their love for liberty.
Now, what is liberty? I am sure that this group could come up with dozens of legitimate definitions. For my purposes today, I would like to refer to the thought of John Winthrop, one of the earliest people to follow the Pilgrim’s footsteps and build on their legacy. He distinguished between natural liberty and civil liberty. Under natural liberty, men do whatever they want, which leads to a sad state. With civil liberty, men live subject to authorities but freely keep the law and do what is right and holy, reflecting moral self-governance. Civil liberty allows people to do what is “good, just, and honest”. In my view, Winthrop’s civil liberty is true liberty. Rephrasing, I would define liberty as the social condition in which all can pursue their righteous goals without undue interference from others. Yes, “righteous” is potentially a loaded word, but, as Winthrop recognized, true liberty must include upright behavior, living according to the truth, which, in fact, makes us free.
So, the Pilgrims sought to pursue right living as they defined it, but they absolutely could not do that in early 17th century England. While the Magna Carta, whose 800th birthday we celebrate this year, and local governance had brought more freedom to England than to many nations at the time, the Pilgrims could not worship according to their consciences and thus did not have liberty. In many respects, England was a virtual police state. One could not even leave the country without permission. People were required to attend the Church of England; failure to do so could bring fines or jail. A monarchical tyranny denied religious freedom and thus true liberty.
Which brings us to Monty Python. If we had media, I would cue a clip from the Holy Grail movie. Instead, we will have a reader’s theater with Andy Anderson and Charles Cranney.
ARTHUR: Old woman!
ARTHUR: Old Man, sorry. What knight lives in that castle over there?
DENNIS: I’m thirty seven.
DENNIS: I’m thirty seven — I’m not old!
ARTHUR: Well, I can’t just call you `Man’.
DENNIS: Well, you could say `Dennis’.
ARTHUR: Well, I didn’t know you were called `Dennis.’
DENNIS: Well, you didn’t bother to find out, did you?
ARTHUR: I did say sorry about the `old woman,’ but from the behind you looked–
DENNIS: What I object to is you automatically treat me like an inferior!
ARTHUR: Well, I AM king…
DENNIS: Oh king, eh, very nice. An’ how’d you get that, eh? By exploitin’ the workers — by ‘angin’ on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic an’ social differences in our society.
If there’s ever going to be any progress–
WOMAN: Dennis, there’s some lovely filth down here. Oh — how d’you do?
ARTHUR: How do you do, good lady. I am Arthur, King of the Britons. Who’s castle is that?
WOMAN: King of the who?
ARTHUR: The Britons.
WOMAN: Who are the Britons?
ARTHUR: Well, we all are. We’re all Britons and I am your king.
WOMAN: I didn’t know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective.
DENNIS: You’re fooling yourself. We’re living in a dictatorship. A self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working classes–
WOMAN: Oh there you go, bringing class into it again.
DENNIS: That’s what it’s all about if only people would–
ARTHUR: Please, please good people. I am in haste. Who lives
in that castle?
WOMAN: No one lives there.
ARTHUR: Then who is your lord?
WOMAN: We don’t have a lord.
DENNIS: I told you. We’re an anarcho-syndicalist commune. We take it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week.
DENNIS: But all the decisions of that officer have to be ratified at a special biweekly meeting.
ARTHUR: Yes, I see.
DENNIS: By a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs,–
ARTHUR: Be quiet!
DENNIS: –but by a two-thirds majority in the case of more–
ARTHUR: Be quiet! I order you to be quiet!
WOMAN: Order, eh — who does he think he is?
ARTHUR: I am your king.
WOMAN: Well, I didn’t vote for you.
ARTHUR: You don’t vote for kings.
WOMAN: Well, ‘ow did you become king then?
ARTHUR: The Lady of the Lake
her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water signifying by Divine Providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur.
That is why I am your king!
DENNIS: Listen — strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.
ARTHUR: Be quiet!
DENNIS: Well you can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just ’cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!
ARTHUR: Shut up!
DENNIS: I mean, if I went around sayin’ I was an empereror just because some [woman] had lobbed a scimitar at me they’d put me away!
ARTHUR: Shut up! Will you shut up!
DENNIS: Ah, now we see the violence inherent in the system.
ARTHUR: Shut up!
DENNIS: Oh! Come and see the violence inherent in the system! HELP! HELP! I’m being repressed!
ARTHUR: Bloody peasant!
DENNIS: Oh, what a give away. Did you hear that, did you hear that, eh? That’s what I’m on about — did you see him repressing me, you saw it didn’t you?
This scene sheds a lot of light on sovereignty. Monarchies rarely preserve liberty because they do not recognize that the people should be sovereign. From our perspective, it is easy to see that individuals must be free to worship as they please. The Pilgrims, too, knew this instinctively, even though the society in which they lived did not uphold freedom of religion. They believed firmly in God and His Christ and greatly desired to worship them freely. They therefore courageously took risky steps to achieve this elusive goal.
At this point, I think that it will help to shed light on the Pilgrims’ great liberty legacy by telling the story of one of them. Of course, I have chosen my 8th Great Grandfather, Governor William Bradford.
He was born in, or around, 1590 in Yorkshire. His father died while William was young, and he was sent to live with his uncles, who were farmers. They tried to train him to be a rural laborer, but he was not physically robust and disliked such work. (That sounds like me!) Then, at the age of 12, he discovered his life’s path. He began to read the Bible and to listen to the sermons of a puritan preacher. He joined a prayer meeting, against his uncles’ wishes and despite the tauntings of his neighborhood peers. In other words, he sought the ways of God, even when it definitely was not cool. The prayer meeting met in the home of another Mayflower forebear, William Brewster.
When he was 16, the group organized as a separate church, a bold move because it was illegal. They could have downplayed their differences with the Church of England but steadfastly did not. They would worship God and organize their church in accordance with their understanding of the New Testament, regardless of the cost. They sought to reestablish the pure church: no sacraments except baptism and communion, no set prayers, no altars, or candles, or incense, or organs. Each minister and elder must be elected by the congregation.
Many thousands of people in England, Scotland, and Ireland came to believe as these people did. Most of those others were willing to bide their time and hope for change within the Anglican church. This group of Separatists, though, could not wait. They felt that they must practice the pure religion now. To do so, though, was uncomfortable. For instance, many shopkeepers refused to sell them goods; many merchants would not buy their farm products. In addition, congregation members could have been thrown into jail at any time.
William suffered the “wrath of his uncles” and the “scoff of his neighbors”. Any girls he might have courted were not allowed to speak with him. Nevertheless, he refused to compromise his faith.
The next year, the separatists decided to flee to Holland. This was a tough, tough choice. They would abandon land that that their forebears had farmed for centuries. They would leave loved ones. They began by walking 70 miles to Boston, on the east coast. It was September. They camped out in the cold with children and no fires, to avoid detection, since they did not have permission to leave their own country. After betrayal; further run-ins with the law, which included Bradford being jailed for a month; a wrenching, though temporary, separation of families; and a harrowing sea journey for some, the Pilgrims eventually made it to their refuge, Holland, a place that would grant them religious freedom. There William married, at age 23, Dorothy May, who was 16. Yes, my 8th great grandfather was a cradle robber, but it seems to have worked out.
The freedom they gained in Holland was two-edged. These farmers had to somehow earn a living in the city of Leiden, in the textile industry as it turned out, and Holland had influences on their children that made the Pilgrims uncomfortable. But where do you go? Not England. So, eventually, they determined to go to the New World and pursue true liberty there.
William and Dorothy decided it was best to leave their 4-year-old son, John, with Dorothy’s parents, hoping to send for him after getting settled. One month after landing at Provincetown, they were still living on the Mayflower when Dorothy tragically drowned after falling overboard. I can only imagine the despair and loneliness that William must have felt, with his wife dead and his son thousands of miles away. Surely, William’s faith was pushed to the limit, though there is no evidence that he ever abandoned it.
Three years later, an Alice Southworth, who was herself a widow, came over to the colony. In August of 1623, William married her. She is my 8th great grandmother, and our 2nd daughter is named after her.
They laid a liberty foundation here.
So, the Pilgrims tenaciously sought true liberty. They took on great risks by traveling to two new lands. While we sometimes take it for granted, liberty has been elusive historically, and it certainly was for the Pilgrims. Still, they fought on till they got it, in Plymouth, in the New World. The free society that they set up played a key role in establishing elusive liberty here in the United States.
Modern Americans seem to identify with the Plymouth Colony. It barely survived. The Pilgrims were on their own in a place with tough winters. Forty-five of 102 settlers died that first winter. The next winter may have been as devastating were it not for the help of the local Natives, which aid led to that first Thanksgiving that Americans celebrate each year. We still honor the Pilgrims for their great courage in the face of their trials.
Ultimately, they wanted to set up a two-fold covenant community: They would covenant with God as His chosen to do His work, and they would covenant with each other to bear each other’s burdens. Their covenant with God went along with being led by Him to a promised land, like the Israelites of old, to set up His Kingdom on the earth. William Bradford believed that their community was helping to fulfill Daniel’s prophecy, which described the Lord’s kingdom rolling forth to fill the earth. Bradford said the pilgrims came to America because of “a great hope and inward zeal … of advancing the Gospel of Christ … to be even as stepping stones unto others for the performing of so great a work.” So, the Pilgrims had confidence in God’s protection and believed that they were chosen of Him to do a special work. Such “chosenness” seems to be a key part of the American experience, and it started with the Mayflower.
Their covenant with each other led directly to self-government. Even while still at sea, they entered into the Mayflower Compact, one of the most famous examples in history of a social compact. It said in part:
“We … do … solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation … and … to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.”
Here, in 1620, more than one and a half centuries before the Founding, was a clear move toward democracy and government by the people. Their belief in their equality before God enabled them to govern themselves as equals, without higher authorities. Politically, and not just religiously, the Pilgrims laid an important foundation for the American Founding. They recognized the equality and rights of all. They embraced liberty and the pursuit of true happiness.
The Founders built on their legacy.
The writings of Bradford and other Pilgrims, as well as the liberty-loving actions of all of them, influenced John Locke, and he influenced the Founders greatly: The Declaration borrows heavily from Locke’s Second Treatise on Government. Published in 1689, he argues four score and seven years before the Declaration that all people have rights and that governments exist solely to protect the rights of the sovereign people. The Pilgrims had demonstrated to Locke and others that these theoretical principles could work in practice. The Founders knew that Americans could govern themselves because of experience acquired starting with the Pilgrims.
With God’s aid, which they acknowledged repeatedly, the Founders built on the Pilgrims’ legacy and set up the first and longest lasting constitutional government in history. They, like the Pilgrims, recognized the rights of all and the fundamental role of liberty and the pursuit of happiness. With the establishment of the Constitution, the Americans escaped the Human Predicament in which tyranny and anarchy seem to prevail. In doing so, the Americans gave hope to the rest of the world that they, too, could set up societies that preserved true liberty. But don’t take my word for it. Take Bono’s. He gave a great speech at Georgetown University in 2012 November. I encourage you to look up a video of it. I share with you now an excerpt.
America’s consistently been on the side of what’s right. Because when it comes down to it, this is about keeping faith with the idea of America. Because America is an idea, isn’t it? I mean, Ireland’s a great country, but it’s not an idea. Great Britain’s a great country, but it’s not an idea. That’s how we see you around the world, as one of the greatest ideas in human history. Right up there with the Renaissance, right up there with crop rotation, The Beatles’ White Album…
That idea, the America idea, … is that you and me are created equal.
The idea that life is not meant to be endured, but enjoyed.
The idea that if we have dignity, if we have justice, then leave it to us, we can do the rest.
This country was the first to claw its way out of darkness and put that on paper. And God love you for it. Because these aren’t just American ideas anymore. There’s no copyright on them. You’ve brought them into the world. It’s a wide world now.
I know Americans say they have a bit of the world in them. And you do. The family tree has a lot of branches. But the thing is, the world has a bit of America in it, too. These truths, your truths, they are self-evident in us.
We have inherited a great liberty legacy that we should strive to preserve.
So, what does all of this mean for us today? Well, we have inherited a great legacy, a liberty legacy, and we have the opportunity and duty to preserve it. This requires that we get involved in our communities and strengthen the civic sphere. John Winthrop saw early on the importance of public virtue and service in this land. Said he: “We must be knit together in this work and … we must delight in each other, make others’ conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together … as members of the same body.” In particular, I believe that this has to include helping the poor, since I believe Matthew 25:41-46. There it says quite clearly that if we do not help the needy, then we go to hell. Moreover, we fail to preserve liberty if we do not help the needy.
I debated whether to share with you a civic service project that my wife and I have been pursuing, because the left hand should not know what the right hand doeth. I think, though, that it may prove helpful to tell you that my wife and I have been preparing to become foster parents. This requires 32 hours of classes, a background check, a home inspection, and a physical exam, among other things. We are nearing the end of this process. We hope that we can provide stability and love to children who have known little of either. We have no illusions about how hard it will be for them to overcome the huge and unfair burdens thrown upon them, but we know that every kindness shown to them will help them to reach their divine potential. This will strengthen society and preserve liberty.
In addition to civic service, sustaining that liberty for which the Pilgrims worked so hard requires something else: personal virtue. We need to live honestly; we need moral self-governance. We need to keep covenants that we have made with God and man. Edmund Burke summarized well the need for virtue: “Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains on their own appetites. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon the will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.” Personal virtue sustains liberty by removing the need for excessive government involvement in our lives. So, liberty depends on righteousness. Fortunately, that same righteousness brings happiness. Liberty and the pursuit of happiness go together, when we remember that wickedness never is happiness.
Living virtuously is a constant struggle. Good and evil fight each other in our hearts. Sometimes, the natural man, or however you want to describe what makes us weak, gets a hold of us and leads us down dark paths. I believe, though, in the power of the human spirit to recover from whatever may pull us from virtue. This often requires the help of others. That’s OK. We do depend on each other. When I served as an LDS bishop, this ability of people to pull away from destructive habits and embrace virtue strengthened my belief in the human spirit. I do firmly believe that, even though virtue may not come easily, it will come as we strive for it. This will enable each of us to live true to the Pilgrim legacy.
You know, as ingenious as our Constitution is, and I believe firmly that inspiration from God made it possible, a written document guarantees nothing. The Soviet Constitution guaranteed freedom of speech and assembly. So does the Chinese constitution. We see what that got them. Words, even written words, are hollow without institutions supporting liberty and without people like you and I living lives that will uphold liberty. May we each do so, as each Mayflower Pilgrim did.
Thank you very much.