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By Jan Siegel
I am writing this prior to the results of the 2020 election, as well as before Thanksgiving. I hope that this article can give us all a chance to stop and reflect on what an amazing country we live in, even in troubled times. Like everything else this year, Thanksgiving will be different. (Can you cook a 12-pound turkey? I only know how to do 20 pounds and bigger. Can Grandma’s recipes be cut in half?)
This year, we have already had to forgo celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, giving women the right to vote throughout the nation, and the 18th Amendment to the U.S .Constitution, which prohibited the sale of alcohol. Although the 18th was later repealed, it led to interesting events throughout the 1920s. One hundred years ago, the nation was coming out of the worst pandemic to hit our shores. We were recovering from World War I. And yet the beginning of 1920 was a decade of hope. Americans never gave in to worry, adversity, or despair.
This year, we have another anniversary that is important to the history of the United States—the 400th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock in 1620. It was this landing that in 1621 gave us the first Thanksgiving that we still celebrate today. But the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock is more important than what happened the following year. It was the beginning of law and order for the colonists. Without the Mayflower Compact, we may never have become the United States of America.
The Mayflower Compact was the first document to establish self-government in the New World.
Of the 102 passengers on the Mayflower, only 41 were true Pilgrims, those seeking religious freedom from the Church of England. Those 41 had signed a contract with the Virginia Company, a trading company that owned the Mayflower, which promised them freedom of worship. They were supposed to land in northern Virginia. But when they landed in Massachusetts instead of Virginia, the passengers who were not Pilgrims argued that the Virginia Company contract was null and void.
Without any official government oversight, chaos was definitely on the horizon. Fortunately, there were a few educated persons on the voyage who recognized the need for rules and regulations for the colony to survive. Although not called the Mayflower Compact at the time, a short document was drawn up and signed by 41 adult male colonists. While still maintaining religious freedom, the Compact stated that the colony would create one society and work together to further it, and that they would create and enact laws, ordinances, acts and offices for the good of the colony and abide by those laws. The Compact was the leading document until the Plymouth Colony became part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
That is how this country started. Through laws and working together.
In 1773, when St. Serra was founding the Mission system in California, he requested that the Viceroy in Mexico accept 32 regulations that covered behavior of soldiers, natives and Missionaries. All were approved by the Crown.
The Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution—and eventually state constitutions—would follow. Laws are what bind us. Laws are what make us a great nation and a great people. Without just laws, there is chaos.
As we get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving this year, take a moment in time to reflect on the Pilgrims 400 years ago and how by setting down laws of behavior then has impacted how we behave today. We still have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season. Enjoy your family and stay safe.
Jan Siegel was a 33-year resident of San Juan Capistrano and now resides in the neighboring town of Rancho Mission Viejo. She served on the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission for 13 years, has been a volunteer guide for the San Juan Capistrano Friends of the Library’s architectural walking tour for 26 years and is currently the museum curator for the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society. She was named Woman of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce in 2005, Volunteer of the Year in 2011 and was inducted into the city’s Wall of Recognition in 2007.