SEPTEMBER 16, 1620, according to the Gregorian Calendar, 102 passengers set sail on the Pilgrims’ ship, Mayflower. Their 66-day journey of 2,750 miles encountered storms so rough the beam supporting the main mast cracked and was propped back in place with “a great iron screw.” One youth, John Howland, was swept overboard by a freezing wave and rescued. His descendants include Ralph Waldo Emerson, Humphrey Bogart, Franklin D. Roosevelt and George W. Bush. During the Pilgrims’ voyage, a man died and a mother gave birth. Intending to land in Virginia, they were blown off-course.
Of their landing in Massachusetts, Governor William Bradford wrote:
“Being thus arrived in a good harbor, and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth, their proper element.”
Though half died that first bitter winter, Governor William Bradford wrote:
“Last and not least, they cherished a great hope and inward zeal of laying good foundations…for the propagation and advance of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in the remote parts of the world.”
At the Bicentennial Celebration of the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, Secretary of State Daniel Webster stated December 22, 1820:
“There is a…sort of genius of the place, which…awes us. We feel that we are on the spot where the first scene of our history was laid; where the hearths and altars of New England were first placed; where Christianity, and civilization…made their first lodgement, in a vast extent of country… ‘If God prosper us,’ might have been the… language of our fathers, when they landed upon this Rock, ‘…we shall here begin a work which shall last for ages… We shall fill this region of the great continent…with civilization and Christianity…”
Daniel Webster continued:
“The morning that beamed…saw the Pilgrims already at home…a government and a country were to commence, with the very first foundations laid under the divine light of the Christian religion… Our ancestors established their system of government on morality and religious sentiment…Whatever makes men good Christians, makes them good citizens.
Our fathers came here to enjoy their religion free and unmolested; and, at the end of two centuries, there is nothing upon which we can pronounce more confidently…than of the inestimable importance of that religion to man…”
Daniel Webster warned:
“We are bound…to convince the world that order and law, religion and morality, the rights of conscience, the rights of persons, and the rights of property, may all be preserved and secured, in the most perfect manner, by a government entirely and purely elective. If we fail in this, our disaster will be signal, and will furnish an argument…in support of those opinions which maintain that government can rest safely on nothing but power and coercion…”
Continuing his 1820 speech, Daniel Webster added a rebuke:
“The African slave-trader is a pirate and a felon; and in the sight of Heaven, an offender far beyond the ordinary depth of human guilt… If there be…any participation in this traffic, let us pledge ourselves here, upon the rock of Plymouth, to extirpate and destroy it… I invoke the ministers of our religion, that they proclaim its denunciation of these crimes, and add its solemn sanctions to the authority of human laws. If the pulpit be silent whenever or wherever there may be a sinner bloody with this guilt within the hearing of its voice, the pulpit is false to its trust…”
Daniel Webster reflected further:
“Whoever shall hereafter write this part of our history…will be able to record no…lawless and despotic acts, or any successful usurpation. His page will contain no exhibition of…civil authority habitually trampled down by military power, or of a community crushed by the burden of taxation… He will speak…of that happy condition, in which the restraint and coercion of government are almost invisible and imperceptible…”
Daniel Webster stated further:
“Finally, let us not forget the religious character of our origin. Our fathers were brought hither by their high veneration for the Christian religion. They journeyed by its light, and labored in its hope. They sought to incorporate its principles with the elements of their society, and to diffuse its influence through all their institutions, civil, political, or literary. Let us cherish these sentiments, and extend this influence still more widely; in the full conviction, that that is the happiest society which partakes in the highest degree of the mild and peaceful spirit of Christianity…”
Daniel Webster concluded:
“Advance, then, ye future generations! We would hail you, as you rise in your long succession, to fill the places which we now fill… We welcome you to the blessings of good government and religious liberty… We welcome you to…the happiness of kindred, and parents, and children. We welcome you to the immeasurable blessings of rational existence, the immortal hope of Christianity, and the light of everlasting truth!”
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