Monday, May 07, 2007

Jamestown Editorial

Eric Daniels has written an excellent editorial commemorating the founding of Jamestown. Included in it:
Though the Virginia Company found little gold and no sea route to Asia, they soon discovered something vastly more important--that economic opportunity lay wherever men were left free to work and create new wealth. In contrast to the rigid class structure and static economy of Jacobean England, America promised rewards based on individual merit. It was this spirit, and not the Puritan belief in cosmic predestination and unthinking duty to God, that attracted men to pursue their own earthly success in the New World.

"Here every man may be master and owner of his own labor and land," Smith noted in one of his many promotional books intended to attract new settlers to America. "If he have nothing but his hands," he boasted, "he may set up his trade, and by industry quickly grow rich." For Smith and the other early settlers of Jamestown, the profound significance of America lay in the possibility that a man could choose, pursue, and realize his own destiny--it lay in a new ideal of individual liberty.

By the late eighteenth century, under the growing influence of that ideal, the colonists began to resist and protest against British imperial controls on their economic and political freedom, which led to the American Revolution. In framing our constitutional government, the Founders put individualism into political practice by protecting individual rights against the claims of any cleric, monarch, or legislative majority. The new nation's founding ideals had emerged in opposition to the religious morality that entailed obedience to Biblical teachings and authority, conformity to the group, and condemnation of worldliness and material success.

Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the individualist spirit born in Jamestown brought countless millions to America, each looking to create a better life for himself. Through the years, that spirit has fostered untold prosperity by encouraging self-reliant innovators like Thomas Edison, Andrew Carnegie, or James J. Hill. Its legacy lives on in America today, in anyone who believes that each individual owns his own life and has an inalienable right to pursue his own happiness.


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