Tag Archives: England

This Day in History 11/21: The Mayflower Compact is signed

The Mayflower Compact, a painting by Jean Leon...

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The Mayflower Compact, signed on November 21 (November 11 in the old calendar), 1620, causes a lot of confusion.

Therefore, before we go any further, let’s get some things clear:

1. The so-called Pilgrims (or Separatists or whatever the fuck they wanted to call themselves) were not interested in creating a democracy.

2. They did not believe in religious freedom for anyone but themselves.

3. No one asked the Wampanoag, the Narragansett, the Patuxet or any of the other indigenous tribes of the region to sign this thing (which they would have happily done with a tomahawk to their pasty white skulls).

The usual line fed to us is that the Pilgrims created the Compact as the first form of government in the Thirteen Colonies of North America.  There goes log of bullshit # 1–sorry, Jesus freaks, but the tobacco-growing, native-wenching planters of Virginia had you beat by one year, creating the House of Burgesses in 1619.

The other old saw follows that the Pilgrims intended to form a democratic form of government among the colonists, thus being the antecedent to the United States Constitution.  Again…this is wrong on so many levels.

The reasons for the Compact were complex, but mostly had to do with the sizeable amount of colonists aboard the Mayflower who were (gasp!) not Pilgrims, Separatists, Puritans or anything else.  They had no illusions about John Winthrop‘s City on a Hill, or creating a New Jerusalem in the wilderness–they came to go to Virginia and join the wenching tobacco planters.  When the ship veered off course and landed at Cape Cod instead, the outsiders, or “strangers” claimed independence from the Pilgrim leaders.  By contract, the voyage was to land in Virginia.  It didn’t, so by law (at least in their mind) the Bible-thumpers had no control over them.

The Pilgrims, rightfully, got nervous.  They understood that if they didn’t stick together, the colony would not survive, be it by starvation, disease, exposure, or the aforementioned tomahawks to the noggin.  So they decided to bargain with the “strangers” and form a haphazard agreement.  It was basically not much of a government at all, but rather a social contract meant to bind the colonists to the rules set forth from that point on.

The following is a modern translation of the Compact:

 “In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, defender of the Faith, etc.

Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, 1620.”

Three things are abundantly clear in reading this modern translation:

1. The Pilgrims had a shitty sense of geography.  They still insisted they were in Virginia–albeit the “northern parts of Virginia.”  This was probably put in to keep the “strangers” from trying any legal funny business.  By that definition, Virginia should extend all the way to fucking Nova Scotia.

2. The Compact did not lay out a single plank for a framework of government.  All it did was establish a “body politic” that would be bound to the rules and regulations of the colony, rules that are supposedly “convenient for the general good of the colony.”  Exactly how these rules would be enacted–and especially who would be involved in government–was left eerily vague.  Looking at the list of 41 white male signers, you can guess who was running things.

3. For a group of people threatened with prison, torture and death by their own home government, the Pilgrims still show a remarkable allegiance to James I of England, Scotland and Ireland–even going so far as to use his full and correct title TWICE (how’s that for filling a page!)  This could lead modern readers to think the Pilgrims either still showed obedience to the sovereign or were real sado-masochists under those doublets and breeches.

Was the Mayflower Compact important?  Sure it was.  It was among the earliest attempts to create a social contract bound by the consent of the governed, albeit imperfectly.  It embodied the social and communal ideals of the Separatist movement, emphasizing rule of law and mutual cooperation.

Yet was the Compact the big thing our teachers made it out to be?  Probably not.  It didn’t establish a government at all.  It didn’t stipulate the rights of colonists.  It didn’t lay a foundation for governance or the creation of laws.

Worst of all, the Pilgrim fathers certainly had selective amnesia about the Compact when it came to women, dissenters and especially Native Americans.  The subsequent wars over New England, particularly the Pequot War of 1637 and especially King Phillip’s War of 1675-1676, demonstrate a concerted effort by the English colonists to marginalize, exclude and ultimately erase any native influence on their culture and their precious Compact.

It would take another 167 years of foundations–and another two centuries of defining those foundations–to actually create the system that lived up to the Pilgrim ideal.

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A Small Salute on Veterans’ Day

“And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered,
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.” Henry V, Act IV, Scene III

It isn’t much, but I hope it helps.

Here’s to the “happy few,” the band of brothers and sisters who served, and continue to serve, in defense of our liberty, our democracy, our people.

Thank you, from the grateful citizens in Mr. D’s Neighborhood.

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Mosques, Churches, Temples: History’s Most Used (and Abused) Religious Real Estate

Cathedral of Seville, early 16th Century. The Giralda, or bell tower was once a minaret for the mosque that was there previously.

Whenever the neighbors have their friends move nearby, you know the neighborhood is changing.

In most urban (and suburban) areas, this has been a pattern for the last half century: people move in, other people move out, for various reasons.  Then another group displaces the last group.

Religion has also played such a real estate game over the past few millennia.

The recent controversy over the proposed mosque near the Ground Zero site had us at the Neighborhood thinking about how religion played a role in the use of real estate.  I, for one, am not convinced that the proposed mosque in that location is a good idea.  There are better, less confrontational areas to erect a mosque and promote understanding (isn’t the whole project about avoiding confrontation, anyway?). 

Yet this is not the first time buildings and religion has collided in controversy. 

Here is a sampling of other sites around the world that have changed religious hands, sometimes multiple times.  Some resorted to violence, while others simply entered a space vacated by someone else.  There were many others to choose from, but these are my favorites:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Parthenon, Athens, Greece (447-431 BCE)

Like a Times Square callgirl, this old broad has had a rough life.  The Parthenon was designed as a temple to the goddess Athena, the protector of the city of Athens.  It replaced an earlier Parthenon that was destroyed by the Persians, and also served as the city treasury.  Later, under the Byzantines, the Parthenon became a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, while the Ottoman Turks converted it into a mosque in the early 1460s.  After a Venetian bomb exploded the powder stores inside it in 1687, and Lord Elgin made off with the choice goods in 1806, the Parthenon was better used as a backdrop for every Greek diner from Astoria to Chicago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Temple Mount [Dome of the Rock, Al-Aqsa Mosque, Western Wall], Jerusalem, Israel (957 BCE-692 CE)

Sure, people fought over the Parthenon, but never was the fight as fierce as for the Temple Mount.  According to Biblical scholarship (since archaeological digs are forbidden on the mount), the first Temple of Solomon rose at that sight around the mid 900s BCE.  It was subsequently destroyed by the Babylonians, and then rebuilt by the Persians in the early 500s BCE.  Herod the Great expanded the Temple Mount in 19 BCE, only to have it destroyed by the Romans after the Jewish Revolt of 66-70 CE.  A temple to Jupiter arose from the site in the 130s BCE, starting another Jewish revolt and banning Jews from the city (are you getting all this?).  In 325 CE a Catholic church arose on the mount, followed by more churches, and culminating in the building of the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque by the Umayyad caliphs in the late 600s-early 700s.  Three religions considered the place sacred, and the true ownership and usage rights are still in dispute.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey (532-537 CE)

You got to give Kemal Ataturk credit here.  The first president of the secular Republic of Turkey needed to do something with a building that charged emotions among Christians and Muslims.  The building was created by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I and served as the eastern headquarters of Christendom, later the headquarters of the Eastern Orthodox Church.  Following the Ottoman conquest of 1453, Mehmed II had Hagia Sophia converted to a mosque, adding minarets, a mihrab, a minbar and also covering up or removing the more Christian aspects of the place.  In 1935, Ataturk decided everybody can use it—and nobody can use it, either.  He had the place restored and converted to a museum, and no religious group can use it as a place of worship.  Since Ataturk controlled the voting bloc that had machine guns, his edict settled the matter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Great Mosque of Cordoba [Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption] Cordoba, Spain (784-987)

I had the pleasure of visiting the Great Mosque, or Mezquita as its known in Spanish, and it is truly a wonder—even if the Spanish managed to shoe-horn a Renaissance chapel smack-dab in the middle of the thing.  Originally a Visigothic church stood on the site where Emir Abd al-Rahman I decided to build a grand mosque.  Using the original church as a template, the mosque was enlarged and decorated over the centuries.  It became the cultural, political, social and economic center of Muslim Spain, known as Al-Andalus (today’s Andalusia).  When the Christian kings of Castile took it back in the mid 1200’s, the Mosque became a church again.  It’s amazing how much of the original Islamic structure was relatively untouched; that is, until you find the gleaming golden Catholic interior chapel.  Even I find it a little garish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Synagogues of Spain: El Transito, Toledo and Old Main Synagogue, Segovia (1300s-1492)

The Catholic Reconquest of Spain (1200s-1492) ended the thriving Muslim culture in Al-Andalus.  It also shattered the other thriving minority culture in Spain: Jews.  There had been Jews in Spain since the Roman period, and they had risen to high places in politics and business.  Yet with the Reconquista, and the subsequent Spanish Inquisition meant to homogenize Spanish society under one church, the Jews were now a pariah and a threat.  Both the Synagogue of El Transito and the Old Maine Synagogue in Segovia defied Christian laws meant to keep Jewish houses of worship small and unadorned.  In fact, both were grand and highly ornate: in the style of the people that tolerated them the most, the Muslim Moors.  After the Edict of Expulsion in 1492, both became churches or parts of Catholic institutions, although now El Transito is a museum documenting the history of Toledo’s Jewish community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Babri Mosque, Ayodhya, India  (1527-1992)

In 1992, a mob of 150,000 rioters, mostly Hindus, settled a centuries-old debate by destroying a mosque that was built over 400 years earlier.  In 1527, Babur I, first Mughal emperor of India, built this mosque on the site of an earlier Hindu temple.  According to Hindu mythology, the area around the Babri Mosque was the birthplace of the god Rama—even Babur acknowledged this in naming the mosque Masjid-i Janmasthan, or Mosque of the Birthplace.  By the 1980s, a new militant Hindu nationalist movement had agitated to purge the area of Muslim influences, culminating in the 1992 riot.  A commission released a report in 2009 that blames Hindu nationalists and members of the Indian government for the demolition of the mosque.  It didn’t settle matters:  the debate over the mosque’s history and significance, known as the Ayodhya debate, rages today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brick Lane Mosque, London, England, UK (1743)

All those other stories were so morbid, so let’s end on a good note.  In London, particularly in the working-class East End, communities have come and gone over centuries, and 59 Brick Lane in the Spitalfields neighborhood of east London has seen them all.  It began as a Protestant chapel for French Huguenots, and it serviced this French exile community for over 60 years.  In 1809, it became a Wesleyan chapel for a group ministering to London’s Jewish community.  This didn’t last long, as it became a regular Methodist church in 1819.  Russian and Eastern European Jews, funny enough, did take over the building in the late 19th century, becoming the “”Machzike Adass” or “Spitalfields Great Synagogue.”  As these Jews migrated to north London, the building was eventually abandoned in the mid 20th century.  In the 1970s, an influx of immigrants from Bangladesh settled in Spitalfields to find work in factories or textile mills.  The now-empty 59 Brick Lane then became the Brick Lane Mosque in 1976, which stills serves the Bangladeshi community of east London today.

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Spoofing History: BBC Spoof of Simon Schama

Like many history buffs, I’m a sucker for documentaries.  I may even be the only idiot to actually purchase them for my own video collection.  That’s why I had a riot listening to Jon Culshaw of the BBC comedy show “Dead Ringers.”  In this clip, he spoofs professor Simon Schama as he does his “A History of Britain” series based on his three books.  I was a fan of the series, but I can see through the spoof what I couldn’t before: how documentaries can often over-simplify something very complex, or even make connections that simply do not exist.

Either way, for those familiar with Schama’s work, this is too funny.  Enjoy. NOTE: The BBC is not allowing this video to be embedded.   You can click on the video to see it on another screen.

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