Tradition as a Cultural Tool


Of the earliest remembrances of the Pilgrims in the latter part of the 18th century-- in the years directly preceding the Revolution--the establishment of the "Old Colony Club" and with it, the celebration of "Forefathers' Day," provide a clear example of how, from the beginnings of an official nation, nationalistic tendencies used the past as current self- justification. The Old Colony Club itself began in Plymouth as social club with the rather elitist-seeming purpose of eschewing "'the many disadvantages and inconveniences that arise from intermixing with the company at the taverns in this town'" (Qtd. in Gill, 151). They first met on December 22nd, 1769, celebrating with a kind of Thanksgiving-style picnic meal, and concluding with a list of toasts that, although they began with "'our brave and pious ancestors,'" still curbed any overly-nationalistic urges by wishing for "'a speedy and lasting union between Great Britain and her colonies'" (Qtd. in Gill, 152). At its onset, then, this invocation of the past and the self-conscious development of tradition in memorializing that past, seems to have been not so much an exhortative call to realize future glory and a more complete Americanness, as it did a conservative establishment of men satisfied with their present positions, and happy that they could claim a cultural priority in being descendents of the Mayflower pilgrims.

But as the years went one by one toward the ultimate split with Britain, the idea of Forefathers' Day began to be politically charged. In 1773 townspeople to whom the celebration was not originally open (those who could not trace ancestry back to the Mayflower), began to contend for the right to inherit it ideologically, to call for its use as protest against British rule. The Old Colony Club refused to relinquish its cultural control of the situation and the near-sacred site of Plymouth Rock, and so refused to allow its own hereditary-based tradition to be dispersed, its social position to be de-legitimated by being made so open. The following year, with the crisis nearing in Plymouth as throughout the colonies, they had lost the authority, and the Pilgrims were made fair ideological game. The Plymouth Sons of Liberty,

to render available the patriotic associations connected with the rock, undertook its removal to the town square, with the intention to place over it a liberty pole, as an excitement to vigorous efforts in the approaching revolutionary struggle, and to quicken the zeal of such persons as hesitated to join the standard of independence." (Qtd. in Gill 153).

Thus, the task was to appropriate the past of religious Separatism, and, in employing it both as a real, physical fact seen in the relic of Plymouth Rock, and as an undeniable component of social and cultural and so, American identity, to use it as analogical proof of the justice of political separation. The symbol of the original mission (the seeking after a more righteous society in the New World) then becomes one for the new, and in so doing, suggests a kind of transcendent unity between the two. Plymouth Rock increasingly became both site and situation--the physical, geographic link to one national myth of origins, and the compressed meaning of what, expanding out from it, the rest of the nation was to become. It was a regional shrine that became a tangible site of national destiny, as it helped justify the project of nationhood. That the rock split when this was attempted only further emphasized to them the moral rightness of their plan, as though nature itself both predicted and approved of an impending split with Britain.

But the Plymouth Pilgrims were not the only component of New England heritage to serve the cause of revolution. Sacvan Bercovitch, in tracing the role of the Puritan jeremiad as it developed distinctly from the general European "mode of public exhortation," sees its use by pre-revolutionary orators and essayists as crucial in "mobiliz[ing] the country." In simultaneously prophesying a future ideal and warning against the damning consequences of failure, it proposed a "social ideal" of "independence" and of a "republic"; it challenged patriots to resist England as "the modern Babylon," and to guard against "European fashions and royal agents" (Bercovitch, 119). The words of Samuel Adams emphasize this sense of American mission that the act of the Plymouth patriots suggests, with its union of near-religious end with political means. In regard to liberty, "every part of [God's] providential proceedings justifies the thought....God does the work, but not without his instruments, and they who are employed are denominated his servants....We may affect humility in refusing to be made the servants of Divine vengeance, but the good servant will execute the will of the master" (Qtd. in Bercovitch, 122). As Bercovitch suggests, the sense of historicized religion that the Puritans represent along with the Pilgrims, allows the proponents of independence to place themselves in a moral and spiritual trajectory which to them must follow the course of increasing liberty.

What appears in Plymouth as an act of willful appropriation of a cultural symbol, and as the violent disturbance of hereditary tradition, then is seen to emerge only through a higher will, an authority that transcends the authority against which the revolutionaries stand. This is simply to translate authority from political to religious terms, to place it where its meaning lies in the ability of those who would interpret it through the reason of human beings and in the workings of the world and history; it is to situate the basis of worldly power beyond the more predetermined modes of hereditarianism and aristocracy. The idea of 'Forefathers' then expands beyond its more literal sense to anticipate the use of "Pilgrim Fathers" that becomes common in the Forefathers' Day celebrations of the 1790s (Gill, 154): it takes its place in a larger "lesson in national genealogy," where "what the fathers began, the sons were bound to complete" (Bercovitch, 123). Having helped transport a socio-political impulse to the level of nationalistic moral necessity, the 'Pilgrim Fathers' became the sires no longer to just their blood-related ancestors, but to the product of what was retrospectively seen as their liberty-driven errand--the nation itself.

misreading the mayflower compact
Pointing out that "in a new society some satisfactory explanation (or even myth) of origins can be a vital ingredient in the formation of national identity," Michael Kammen notes that "the landing of the Pilgrim Fathers (the presence of mothers was taken for granted) became a powerful legend" (Kammen, 63). As has been indicated above, Forefathers' Day had become an annual celebration before the Revolution, and afterwards it developed even more cultural power, providing opportunities for speakers such as John Quincy Adams in 1802 to compose a hymn and provide readings of the Mayflower Compact which presented it as "part of the repudiation of English domination and as the inauguration of indigenous American government" (Gill, 155; Kammen, 64). And "during the 1830's and '40s," Kammen writes, "spokesman for the Whig Party" would praise "the Mayflower Compact as a milestone in the growth of social order and cohesion."

This interest in the Compact as key document of civic expression, then suggests what John Agresto describes as the American use and idea of "constitutionalism": the notion of a law "superior" to the specific, changeable, mundane local laws; the realization that "Liberty" required "written limits...on the exercise of all political power"; the formulation of these concepts into an overarching Constitution, which would express what its framers conceived of as the basic "principles" of the nation, and which would project these principles into the future, establish them as a kind of moral foundation upon which, regardless of everyday legal details, every citizen would be able to rely. For Agresto, the Mayflower Compact represented to Colonial Americans and citizens of the new republic, a prefiguration of the idea of "social contract," which is "the impetus behind all political organization" and whose pre-establishment of the limits of government becomes the primary guarantee of civil rights. On the face of it, this reflects what Charles Wentworth Upham declared in 1846, that Plymouth Rock was "'the point from which the ever-advancing and ever-expanding wave of Anglo-Saxon liberty and light began to flow over America'" (Qtd. in Kammen, 64). It suggests the Mayflower Compact as a document of consciously-established civil rights, a text produced not only for social order, but as a forward-looking projection of the political themes that would only flourish a hundred and fifty years later; this, even as it suggested those themes as somehow racially inherited from Britain. But Upham might not have read Madison's argument in The Federalist (which Agresto notes), that England's constitution was only "a law established by the government, and alterable by the government," and that Parliament's easy ability to "introduce septennial in place of triennial elections"--among other ominous acts--caused "a very natural alarm in the votaries of free government, of which frequency of elections is the cornerstone" (Madison, 332). As Agresto remarks, "the idea of a 'British Constitution' was an American invention of the first magnitude" (Agresto, 47-48, 53). American 'constitutionalism', it seems, was never too far from the Revolutionary appeal to higher authority, or from its willingness to construe the authority out of constructed historical 'tradition'. And whether the lines led to God or to English 'precedent', it seems they often passed through Plymouth.


Jan C. Dawson argues that the rising use of Puritanism as an ideology 'explaining' the tradition, background and basis of the Republic, developed into National terms largely in response to the French Revolution. A general comparison between the United States and France had developed in the early 19th century, and U.S. historians and political theorists sought to refute a dominant assertion by the French--"that republicanism was only compatible with infidelity." Infidelity and "political liberalization" indeed were terms that could become tantamount to threats for many American political thinkers, who saw the "horrors of the French Revolution" as an indication that the American social and cultural tradition had projected the United States toward the most fully-realized model of civilization and moral 'progress.' In terms of the jeremiad as it developed through the American Revolution, one may well imagine that for many Americans of the new Republic, France suggested a near mirror image, but one devoid of a truly moral or religious purpose, into which the United States must always guard against "backsliding." So too, in this light, the above readings of the Mayflower Compact which emphasize the ideas of order and social cohesion, become all the more understandable. But the specific conjoining of republicanism and Christianity in terms of a "fundamental characteristic of faith" followed a use of Puritanism which originated at a more regional level with Daniel Webster's 1820 Plymouth Oration, and which became a national issue with the publication of George Bancroft's highly popular History of the United States (1834) (Dawson, 25-26).

Bancroft, as Dawson writes, was a romantic historian whose sense of an American tradition was filtered through the experience that had become the defining perspective of American identity--the Revolution. As Kammen points out, the stories of patriots and soldiers as told popular writers such as Parson Weems made what had been the object of the struggle--the set of basic political principles--the definitive American traits to be read historically. This was as well the period in which 'civil religion' began to flourish in the form of July 4th celebrations, while the document around which they centered, took on the role of "'sacred relic'"(Kammen, 68). Bancroft, seeing the Puritans through the patriots and liberty through Providence, could then reach the conclusion that "the issue of Puritanism was popular sovereignty" (Qtd. in Dawson, 27). Bancroft's move was that mentioned above, to locate in historical terms "the faith that linked republicanism and Christianity." In so doing, he offered his account of the principles which "bound the seventeenth to the nineteenth century: the equation of social and political stability with the fulfillment of universal law; the participation of the common man is that fulfillment; and the unity of Humanity as an expression of God's love" (Dawson, 27). Bancroft elevates the 'common man'--the ideal and sine qua non of democracy, and an especially powerful trope of the Romantic perspective and in understanding the Jacksonian era--and places him in relation to Puritanism as a standard of well-intentioned self-improvement, for which, Bancroft suggested, the Puritans stood. Democracy itself then becomes bound with Puritanism in a kind of organic moral whole. While the individual then remains prey to the fallibilities and inconsistencies that have plagued the human race throughout history, the fact of the progress of the whole race itself is undeniable. As Bancroft develops the argument in "The Office of the People in Art, Government, and Religion," he transforms the almost mechanistic and calculative perspective one encounters in Federalist #10, where Madison proposes republic over "pure democracy," and large over small republic, as a means of "curing the mischiefs of faction (Madison, 75-84). In Bancroft, popular government is seen as charged with the "moral force" of Puritanism, so that "Truth...emerges from the contradictions of personal opinions...." and the conclusion is reached, that "the decrees of the universal conscience are the nearest approach to the presence of God in the soul of man" (Qtd. in Dawson, 30-31). In this way, with a democracy seen to have been born out of the Puritan tradition, the tradition is in turn made a national presence, and the nation takes on for some the aspect of (to use Dawson's phrase) a "consensus of consciences." The inherent circularity in this conception of course makes almost unquestionable a sense of national purpose and overall progress; its ideological utility becomes apparent when one recalls that it came into popular use in the time of the first railroads, of Westward expansion, the Mexican War, the displacement of Native American lands--of Manifest Destiny. Not that these ends should be attributed to Bancroft or necessarily to most other proponents of a morally- charged Christian Republic, or of sense of National unity in general; but when "the general voice of mankind" is seen to proclaim "pure reason itself" (Qtd. in Dawson, 31), then for a minority voice to emerge, to maintain enough dialectical weight to contribute its share of the "Truth," the chances seem all too slim.


The speech given in 1820 by Daniel Webster as part of the Plymouth bicentennial, provides an interesting lens for many of the issues raised thus far. Webster, as an influential senator and an eloquent and powerful rhetorician, helped fix his reputation as a statesman by speeches such as the one given at Plymouth. Leo Marx has, in The Machine in the Garden, examined Webster as a important proponent of industrial and technological progress (specifically in terms of the railroad, flourishing from the 1830s on). And insofar as Webster stands as an articulate speaker of progress as both the destiny and inheritance of the nation, and as the essence of national identity, he may even be said to employ the American jeremiad that Bercovitch traces from and through the Puritans. This speech in particular suggests the sense of "peculiar mission" for America and Americans, their being "chosen not only for heaven but as instruments of a sacred historical design," and always (should they fail) being under the "threat of divine retribution" (Bercovitch, 7-8). Toward the end of his oration, Webster declares,

We are bound to maintain public liberty, and, by example of our own systems, to convince the world that order and law, religion and morality, the rights of conscience, the rights of persons, the rights of property, may all be preserved and secured, in the most perfect manner, by a government purely elective. If we fail in this, our disaster will be signal... (Webster, 112).

The main points of this national mission are those which have already been touched upon, and which, as has been noted above, found their re-expression in the History of Bancroft. So also in his "example" does one find a reflection of the "city upon a hill" that Puritans such as John Winthrop proposed as the religious and social goal of the Great Migration.

But how do the Pilgrims--for it is the Pilgrims about which he nominally speaks--lead to this? For one thing, he declares of the pilgrims that, by way of their general equality "in respect to property" and their "parceling out and division of lands" once they had arrived in the New World, they "fixed the future frame and form of their government" (Webster, 101). Interestingly, Webster here takes the religious and moral qualities aggregated to the general understanding of the Pilgrims and blends them into an account of socio-cultural continuity that is not only historical and institutional, but also geographic. He states at the beginning of the speech, that there is a sanctity in the site of the commemoration, that Plymouth Rock now contained "a sort of genius of the place, which inspires and awes us" (66). In this statement seems a Romantic sense of the sublime, an appreciation and recognition of transcendent, even infinite power. But where this had been with the Romantics and others inspired by nature, in Webster's use it becomes a gauge of location. Webster reads Plymouth as an analogue to Marathon, a site of world-altering consequence which accordingly becomes a symbol of historical possibility. Because it is so condensed, so tangible in its contained physical space, it is seen as a startling example of an emergence of God in the world--the birth of a righteous nation. He imagines the words of the Pilgrims in terms that paradoxically suggest an almost retrospective prophecy: "'if God prosper us, we shall here begin a work which shall last for ages'"; he envisions his own present moment as past potentiality, in "'temples of the true God...fields and gardens...the canvas of a prosperous commerce...a hundred cities.'" (69-70). This reaching of Webster into the past to project his own present perspective through potentiality--that is, through the infinitude that potential suggests--imbues his vision with the dizzying quality of an endlessly self-reflecting reflection, a way of looking into the past to see the future that may well be considered the historical sublime.

Another aspect about the bicentennial that should be noted is Kammen's point, that it suggests one of the beginnings of "a blend" the Pilgrims with the Puritans, to "subsume" the former into the latter (Kammen, 64). Thus, in invoking the tradition of resistance that would open up the possibility of revolution, Webster quotes a "living British writer" in affirming that "'The people of Massachusetts Bay...were from the first disposed to act as if independent of the mother country..." (Webster, 88). Or in discussing the "new charter...granted to Massachusetts" (91), Webster elides the fact that Plymouth never had been granted one, that Massachusetts meant Massachusetts Bay, the colony of the Puritans. More blatantly, in viewing the "institutions" which the 'Pilgrims' had established in fixing "civilization" in the New World, he cites the "free schools" and emphasizes how "our ancestors" then "founded the university, and with incredible zeal and perseverance, they cherished and supported it" (110). All of this was in keeping with a central theme for Webster, "a consciousness of alliance with excellence that is departed" (65)--and apparently whose excellence was of secondary concern.

What mattered was not that he adhere to the nominal topic of his oration--"the first settlement of New England." What mattered was something akin to the "genius of place," wherein Plymouth could stand for a founding moment of concentric locations, from Massachusetts to New England to the nation as a whole, and that this process was in a way reversible, where the qualities of the nation, of New England, and specifically of Massachusetts emerge through the "genius" of Plymouth and the idea of the Pilgrims enmeshed within it. The historical factuality may well be blurred in this case, because to represent an account of national origins, Plymouth must be seen in terms of a more transcendent historicity, one that could contain the sense of historical sublime even as it offered some tangible symbols of factual continuity. It seems a case of the teleological ends justifying the historical means, because what difference should momentary, limited "fact" make, compared to the truth of what it would lead to? What eventually mattered most was that these were attributes of a social character which, however located they were in history, suggested to Webster and others who increasingly were beginning to search for and celebrate their regional and national heritage, an essential quality that may first have been of New England, but was more and more seen as American.


Toward the end of Webster's speech, he transforms his call of moral and social progress into a specific exhortation: "I deem it my duty, on this occasion, to suggest that the land is not wholly free from the contamination of a traffic, at which every feeling of humanity must forever revolt,--I mean the African slave trade" (Webster, 112). Having converted the blended ideal of 'Pilgrim' into the informing tradition of the now-moral republic, Webster is then able to employ that tradition as the basis of social action, and in so doing stands as a precursor to the primary role of the Puritan tradition in the years before the Civil War--abolitionism. The big difference is, of course, that Webster invokes a sense of humanity and order, because what he calls for is something already condemned by law. For the abolitionists, as Dawson writes, it involved taking the Edwardsian "neo- Calvinist doctrine that 'sinning is acting'"--that is, the de-emphasis of original sin as "the source of immoral conduct" and a greater concentration on the guilt accrued by specific actions--and converting it into a moral imperative whose message was "'sinning is not acting'" (Dawson, 41). As George Cheever declared in "The Curse of God Against Political Atheism" (1849), to passively suffer a law which is wrong and unjust is to commit a "crime, in the name of a law," and is to give sanction to "the daring assertion that human law is higher than the Divine" (Qtd. in Dawson, 42).

In one sense, it is a re-emergence of the Revolutionary invocation of the Puritan mission, where radical transformation on a political and social level becomes justified as a fuller realization of a Godly order. But the difference comes in that the abolitionist project was a negative one--it sought to correct an existing evil in doing away with it, rather than transform it into an ideal of liberty whose worldly repercussions most of its proponents would benefit from and experience first-hand. And more, in seeking to act within the existing social order, Puritanism was reduced to a political program, and was equated by its opponents to "the legislation of righteousness" (Dawson, 43). It came to be used and seen less as a system of religious faith and ethics, than an "ideological rationale" of social control (48).

The main point was that here Puritanism was contended, not only by the South, but by Catholics and others who were wary of overtly Protestant ideology. From the latter group, there rose a good deal of bitterness and resentment, usually expressed as a condemnation of the "'fanaticism'" of the Puritan tradition. This fanaticism, it was argued in yet another conflation of the Pilgrims and Puritans, had given "'the "mayflower," and other ships their living freights'" (Qtd. in Dawson, 54). From Northern critics, then, the charge usually boiled into an accusation that Puritanical zealotry had split the Union.

The Southern response was to contend the Puritan tradition on its own terms, and offer a counter-tradition that could be read in similar historical-transcendent terms. Thus, in the period before and during the Civil War, North and South could often be read as dualism of 'Puritan' and 'Cavalier'. A central part of the argument was to do as Samuel Adams had done with the colonies in regard to Britain, and now claim that the South stood as an instrument of God for "chastening the North" (Dawson, 68)--this involved the claim that the North had strayed too far from the religious orthodoxy which the South saw itself as exemplifying, and that the North was therefore corrupt. A justification for slavery, Cavalier apologists held, could be read in the Bible itself. This came in direct conflict with Puritanism's over-emphasis on individual interpretation of the Bible, which was seen to have led to a kind of cult of the self, where private judgment was conflated with moral law, and held as a standard for the rest of society, giving way to a form of religious despotism (65). What was more, from an historical-racial standpoint, the South offered the English Civil war as analogue, so that just as the Norman king had reclaimed the throne after England's Saxon Puritan Interregnum, so too would the Southern Cavaliers prove superior over the current descendents of the Puritans. In this view, "the Puritans...descended from the Saxons, whom the Cavaliers, descended from the Normans, had tried to convert to Christian orthodoxy since medieval times" (70).

These identifications were useful for each side, employing, in a sense, tradition against tradition even as one half of the nation fought against the other. The battle is relatively familiar one, in that it was fought to see whose side God was on. But the outcome of the war did not necessarily prove the outcome of the ideological struggle; the sense of a Providential and still progressive moral order rising out of the conflagration would have been doubtful, at best. The idea of Puritan promise and Revolutionary fulfillment/furtherance was now out of joint, and the past language of moral purpose, symbolized by both Pilgrim and Puritan, was increasingly more difficult to translate into present terms. Of course, at the least the Pilgrims always had humility as one of their key features, and as though clinging to this, to the appreciation not of a glorious new social order but of the sheer fact of survival, the U.S. instituted Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863.


As has been noted by commentators at least since Henry Adams, the increasing influence that science--especially as embodied in Darwinism--held for Western society in the latter half of the 19th century, meant that "'a new religion of history'" (in Adams's phrase) would come about, "with consequences," as Kammen writes, "not only for historical consciousness, but for enduring perceptions of Puritanism," and "for the practice of filiopiety..." (Kammen, 194). For the idea of Puritans and Pilgrims both, which had served to sustain an active rationale for a moral Republic, this especially meant that "tradition often tended to become a surrogate for faith or revealed religion." In some respects, their use had been tending toward this since the Revolution. But as history itself became more professionalized as a discipline, and developed a methodology of "scientific history" (Dawson, 91), the element of faith, which had played such a central role for Bancroft, was shed for a self-consciously rigorous examination that used as its theme objectivity. As Evolution could explain the presence of life itself in terms that suggested an historical biology, so then does the study of past events take on the cast of something like a biological history, and the faith that had been placed in explanations of Providential design now comes to rest in what seems an absolute and reliable code. This was Adams meant by "a new religion."

The displacement of faith that the 'scientific history' wrought is apparent in the work of New Englander Charles Francis Adams, Jr. and his brother Brooks, who stood against "filio-pietism" as a mode of historical interpretation, which "assumed that Puritanism was a single seed containing all the possibilities for growth that American development later realized" (97). Instead of attempting to somehow account for how the early settlements in Massachusetts had inexorably blossomed into the liberal democracy that the United States would become, both (but especially Brooks Adams) saw their present time as evolving out of a reaction against Puritan "theocracy." The Adams arguments were influential, but anti-filiopietism was not at first the popular view; in response to Brooks Adams's The Emancipation of Massachusetts: The Dream and the Reality, "most of the reviews were not merely critical but hostile," but beyond it, there was "unleashed a debate that persisted for decades" (Kammen, 207).

As far as popular memory was concerned at the time, for which Thanksgiving was becoming increasingly important as a national holiday, the ideas of Puritan and Pilgrim were increasingly blended, and commonly in a sense that reflected the Adams's criticism. As Kammen points out, one Forefathers' Day celebration in 1887 was said to have served traditional New England fare, while the servers wore "'Puritan costumes.'" Or, in dedicating an 1885 Pilgrim statue by John Quincy Adams Ward, George William Curtis felt it necessary to warn, "'we must not think of Puritanism as mere acrid defiance and sanctimonious sectarianism'" (Kammen, 208). But still, when the Pilgrims were distinguished from the Puritans, they generally were seen in contrast to the latter group, so that praise at the dedication of the Pilgrim Monument at Plymouth comes negatively, a praise of the Puritannical things the Pilgrims were not: "'They brought no titles or ranks, priestly hierarchy, no ecclesiastical ranks and orders, no complicated system of fees'" (210). The Pilgrims were still the projection screen they had been when Webster animated them with the good Puritan things, and they could still be saved by their unincriminating blankness when the good things were no longer seen. They were still there in Plymouth Rock, and by now had been instituted in the Capitol, and their presence could still contain the image of national origins, provided one looked closely enough--and yet not too closely.


The 1920 three-hundred year celebration of the Plymouth landing reflected the continuing acceptance of the Pilgrims as central figures of U.S. public and institutional memory, and suggested the role that the Federal government would increasingly play--that is, as sponsor and guardian of national tradition. U.S. Congress "appropriated $400,000 to support the event, an action that was unprecedented" even as it established the "Federal Tercentenary Commission" (Kammen, 384). Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, who had long stood as one of the most ardent of appreciators of early Massachusetts history, was only one of the draws of what developed into a mammoth event: "the speakers at Plymouth included President Harding, the governor of Massachusetts, and the Dutch and British ambassadors," while the crowds produced a traffic jam that was "the worst ever in Southeastern Massachusetts" (384).

Perhaps the most interesting point about Lodge's speech is the way in which it explicitly sets itself up as a parallel to Webster's, one hundred years before. Thus, Lodge begins with an examination of "decisive" moments that seems a translation of Webster's historical sublime, with its awe-inspiring sense of potential that a world-changing event retrospectively gives to one. But Lodge indicates his own role as a defender of early New England, because he cannot take for granted the greatness of the Pilgrim achievement. He must instead "test" whether the Pilgrim landing is "something of world effect" (Lodge, 197). Between this oration and Webster's, the power of potential seems to have been in danger of being appropriated by perhaps an evolutionary model, where it is a sort of natural and ineluctable code which determines all events great and small. Only just before his look at "decisive" points in history, Lodge explicitly defuses what might have been an overly-determinant consideration of Evolution, by using the "horseshoe crab" to draw a distinction. The horseshoe crab may have been--from a point of view strongly reminiscent of Henry Adams's Education, for which Lodge had written a preface only three years before--"a curious instance of the survival of the fittest" that "makes one doubt the moral value of that great law," but no one celebrates its existence because it has not dominated but "has merely lived" (196-197). There is a difference between survival/historical continuity on the one hand, and undeniable intense periods of "world effect" on the other, so while Lodge does make the effort to "prove" the worth of the Pilgrims, he will not let the need to prove their worth become confused with a need to prove worth itself. The distinction is an important one for Lodge, because it suggests an inadequacy of scientific order in viewing specific historical periods; that is, it can measure general trends and developments, but not necessarily the specific "great" actions themselves.

Lodge can then cast aside the "peevish, meaningless" historical standpoint that if "Miltiades had not won Marathon, if Alexander had never existed, ...if Columbus had never reached America, somebody else would have done all these things, for the time was ripe and they would surely have come to pass" (200). Nor does he simply insert the will of God at this point, but rather emphasizes the empirical fact--the "actual deed and the men who did the deed" are what we have and what we have come from. Because the Pilgrims (along with the 1607 establishment of Jamestown) are a fact of U.S. beginnings, and because World War I had recently emphasized the undeniable role of the United States not only as a political world power, but as one which has "affected the entire course of western civilization, and largely helped to determine its fate, which, shaken and clouded by the most desolating of wars, is now trembling in the balance"; because of this, Lodge says, the Pilgrims "clearly" represent a decisive event (201).

To see how thoroughly the Pilgrims were enmeshed in the identity of the United States, Lodge would imply, one need only trace the proliferation of Forefathers' Day celebrations,

following the migrations of the Mayflower descendants and of the children of New England across the continent, until now in ever- increasing numbers the anniversary of the landing in 1620 is marked and celebrated with each recurring year from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The deeds of the little band of hunted men and women have come into their own.

Still, in light of a World War whose unprecedentedness shocked the 'civilization' it tore apart, Lodge cannot so readily view this continuing fruition of the Pilgrim tradition in terms of the "interpreter of the past and prophet of the future," Daniel Webster, whose conception of an absolute "political, moral, spiritual and intellectual progress" indicated the driving belief of much of the 19th century (212, 221). Lodge addresses the 20th century, for which "the fact of progress is one thing, the law of progress is quite another and very different" (221). It was this latter meaning that had become untenable, given the still-increasing skepticism of which the Adamses' critique of filiopietism was only a part. One could celebrate the historical fact of "great deeds" in that they demonstrate a "material" and "historic" progress, but one should take care in interpreting a moral force beyond the facts.

As Lodge responded to Webster's failure to "draw the distinction" between the "fact" and the "law" of progress, so too does he indirectly answer Webster's (surely intentional) failure to differentiate between the Pilgrims and the Puritans. This second distinction follows the pattern that had been set toward the end of the previous century, although Lodge's tone is decidedly not one of condemnation. First using the Mayflower Compact, he frames the Pilgrims as the establishers not so much of democracy, as of a republic: "what was of vital importance and entire novelty was that the signers of the compact arranged for their rulers and representatives in a new and unoccupied country" (240). It is an astounding claim, to dissolve the existence of Native Americans with the one word "unoccupied," especially when central to the Pilgrim myth is the treaty with Massasoit, which, as Bradford writes, had been composed before the Pilgrims ever arrived. But Lodge makes the claim because he seeks to emphasize the greatness of the pilgrims in modern terms, terms that would resound with the experience of what seemed the unmitigated nationalism of the First World War, with the awareness of such a dangerous movement as anarchism (the political assassinations attributed to which saw the death of a U.S. President as well as of the Arch-Duke Ferdinand), with words of Clemenceau--"'liberty is the power to discipline oneself'" (241). In a period when the potential damage of which human beings were capable had been extended beyond imagination, self-control becomes a virtue of the first order. This is why the chosen "rulers and representatives" are emphasized over a less cautious praise of 'freedom.' It is why the Pilgrims are contrasted with a potential chaos of "unoccupied" territory. It is also why he states that the Pilgrims "tried communism" and then "abandoned it"--because "the right of man to private property honestly obtained was essential to social stability and to civilization" (241-242). It is self-control that the Pilgrims embody for Lodge, and it is this, in the form of "liberty," that America represents. Meanwhile a country like Russia was only then attempting the "experiment" for itself--and by deduction, would only later find it an equal "failure." Because for Lodge, a greater liberty there must be. The Puritans, he states, "resisted for half a century the inevitable result with all the fierce energy of earnest men strong both in character and in intellect, and failed"; the Pilgrims, on the other hand, "opened the door to the coming of freedom of conscience, and freedom of conscience meant freedom of thought," and therefore, "they succeeded marvelously" (245, 246). After all, the Pilgrims, though not "perfect," were still what made Americans Americans.


The above treatment of Lodge's speech already gives much indication of what the idea of the Pilgrims and the Puritans developed into during the twenties and the thirties, but some other points should be made. For one thing, a sectional dispute had increased, so that, in terms of tradition, the old animosity between North and South that had begun before the Civil War, and which had festered during Reconstruction, was again a lively debate (Kammen, ch. 12). Lyon G. Tyler, president of William and Mary, was an especially strong opponent of what he felt was Northern exceptionalism, and took issue with the conception of "firstness" that somehow gave the 1620 landing of the Pilgrims primacy over the 1607 establishment of Jamestown, in Virginia. And as Kammen writes, "one matter where boasting rights counted mightily, Tyler struck gold": in 1931 he "found in a collection of papers pertaining to early Virginia located at the New York Public Library a document indicating that the first Thanksgiving observance had occurred in 1619 at Berkeley Hundred, a plantation near the falls of the James River" (Kammen, 386). But while this might have helped along the increasingly national (and decreasingly regional) quality of the holiday, making it more and more a general moment of taking stock and less a time to commemorate the 'Pilgrim Fathers,' Tyler would never displace them entirely--or even all that seriously.

For the Puritans, things continued along the trend about which Dawson writes, and which is discernible from the very title of his book, The Unusable Past, marking what Dawson sees as the ultimate abandonment of the Puritans as a useful ideological tool after about 1930. His title is a reference to Van Wyck Brooks (and his idea of a "usable past"), whose The Wine of the Puritans (1908) helped continue the new seemingly 'anti-Puritan' tradition of Brooks and Charles Francis Adams, and inaugurate an especially rough trend of "Puritan-bashing" in the 1920s (Kammen, 388). H.L. Mencken's A Book of Prefaces (1917) likewise furthered the cause, seeing Puritanism as "all that's unattractive about American culture, compounded over time by evangelism, moralism from political demagogues, and relentless money-grubbing" (Kammen, 390). The Massachusetts Bay Tercentenary, compared with that of the Plymouth landing, was a relatively unenthusiastic affair. And while it is true that historians such as Samuel Eliot Morison and Perry Miller would begin to counter seriously and ably many of the charges against Puritan gloominess, intolerance, 'theocracy,' still it is true that the Puritans have become less accessible and indeed less "usable" to popular memory. During times of Prohibition, the Puritans thus became the demons of temperance, inflicting others with their own unjust morality--despite what Increase Mather had written, that

Drink is in it self a good creature of God, and to be received with thankfulness, but the abuse of drink is from Satan; the wine is from God, but the Drunkard is from the Devil (Qtd. in Miller, 2).

So too, when the 'Red Scare' of the 1950s took hold of the United States, Arthur Miller would translate Puritanism into a metaphor for McCarthyism in The Crucible, and the Puritans would be seen as actors in "one of the strangest and most awful chapters in human history" (A. Miller, 136). It is now mostly the historians for whom the Puritans are meaningful as anything but the darker, excessive side of America. The Puritans, who had served as such a powerful (and more detailed than the Pilgrims) explanation of the United States as a moral Republic, were in large part discarded along with that ideal, and its attendant faith in Providential order. For the purpose of remembering early New England as an important source of American tradition and American identity, the Pilgrims now seem to suffice.

Images in the Capitol

scott eric atkins