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From Humble Beginnings

10/12/13, by Clement Pulaski


William Bradford was a passenger on the Mayflower and served as governor of the Plymouth Colony for several years. He left a detailed record of his experiences in which he relates the extreme hardships suffered by one of the most important early American settlements. Disease, starvation and hostile relations with both Indians and Europeans were the lot of the Pilgrims, and yet from these humble beginnings came the glorious development of our nation.

The Founding Fathers were intensely interested in classical civilization, and often made reference to ancient authors and statesmen when explaining their current situation. William Bradford made similar use of the classics, comparing the Plymouth colony to early Rome. When describing the allotment of land to the Plymouth colonists Bradford wrote:

Every person was given one acre of land, for them and theirs, and they were to have no more till the seven years had expired ; it was all as near the town as possible, so that they might be kept close together, for greater safety and better attention to the general employments. This often makes me think of what Pliny says of the Romans' first beginnings in the time of Romulus — how everyone contented himself with two acres of land, and had no more assigned to them; and how it was thought a great public reward to receive a pint of corn from the people of Rome. And long after, the most generous present given to a Captain who had won a victory over their enemies, was as much ground as he could till in one day; in fact a man was not considered a good but a dangerous citizen, who was not content with seven acres of land.

Rome is often remembered as a massive, decadent empire that stretched from Egypt to Britain; but in its earliest days Rome was just one of many small city states in central Italy. When she was young Rome developed an intense devotion to civic duty and a great respect for modest living, and these original virtues are what allowed Rome to become master of the world. But conquest made the Romans wealthy, and consequently greedy and weak. To quote John Adams:

Will you tell me how to prevent riches from becoming the effects of temperance and industry? Will you tell me how to prevent riches from producing luxury? Will you tell me how to prevent luxury from producing effeminacy, intoxication, extravagance, vice, and folly?

Bradford admired early Rome, when the city was still healthy and austere. His comparison of the Plymouth colony to early Rome proved prophetic, for American development has closely mirrored that of Rome. The American spirit existed in embryonic form in the early British colonies before spreading across the North American continent with unstoppable force. Tragically we have also followed Rome in our slide into weakness and degeneracy, and our decline has been so extreme that salvaging the current system seems almost unthinkable. As the old system collapses and a healthy remnant emerges, we must look towards our rebirth, towards a new foundation built upon the proven virtues of temperance and self-sacrifice.



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