When it comes to holidays, I’ve always preferred Thanksgiving to Christmas.
When Thanksgiving Day rolls around, I don’t feel pressured to rush to the malls and spend money I don’t have on presents that people really don’t need. Instead, I get together with family to eat a lot of good food, watch a football game or two on TV, and simply enjoy the day.
Thanksgiving reminds us of a time when we thought it important to work together, for the common good of all. That’s a spirit of community we seem to have lost in recent years.
The religious separatists known as the Pilgrims gave us the tradition of a Thanksgiving observance not long after they landed in Massachusetts Bay in November 1620.
The Pilgrims gave us something else as well – they cobbled together an extraordinary document called the Mayflower Compact that, for the first time, set down a written framework for the establishment of a governing body in what became the United States.
The 41 men who signed the Compact agreed to abide by the rules that would be formulated by the new government of the Plymouth colony. The document was based upon the momentous idea that we set up governments to do things as a group that we would not be able to do individually.
The signers promised that to ensure “our better ordering and preservation,” they would enact ‘‘just and equal Laws” that were considered to be “most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony.”
The words of the Mayflower Compact may sound a little stilted and archaic to modern ears, but they echo throughout the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. The agreement signed by a few dozen settlers in a tiny New England colony provided the foundation for a governing system that still serves us today.
There has always been a tension in this country between individualists who criticize any form of government activity and those who recognize that a large, complex society such as ours can only function if it is managed through some form of governmental arrangement.
Similarly, we have long heard the arguments of libertarians and others who insist that governments can do nothing right and that we should wait for the wonders of the free market to solve whatever problems might confront us.
I would argue from our recent history that there are things governments can do quite well under those we elect to lead us.
The internet started out as a government project: a computer network designed for the Department of Defense so that the agency could communicate with scientists and professors.
When they signed their primitive compact, the Pilgrims were trying to survive a brutal winter season in an unforgiving land.
They knew that survival depended upon everyone’s willingness to work together. We seem to have lost that communal spirit in today’s political environment, but I hope that someday we can regain it.
(Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an internet news service at gareport.com that reports on state government and politics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)