Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

America at 400

Richard Brookhiser reminds us that this month is the 400th anniversary of the settlement of Jamestown. Of course, people lived here before then--Native Americans and even a great number of Europeans who were trappers, etc.--but this was a real venture; a venture that Brookhiser argues fittingly prefigured our character as a people.

A few good lines:

"It was a project of the London Co., a group of merchants with a royal patent: Imagine that Congress gave Wal-Mart and General Electric permission to colonize Mars."

The general assembly first met for five days in the summer of 1619. It discussed Indian relations, church attendance, gambling, drunkenness and the price of tobacco. It sounds like the Iowa caucuses: war and peace, social issues, bread and butter. From this seed would grow the House of Burgesses, the elective house of Virginia’s colonial legislature and the political academy of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. In their rough-and-ready way, the Jamestown settlers had planted the seeds of a dynamic system, democratic capitalism, along with an institution that would pervert it, chattel slavery, and a force that would supply the cure, the goal of liberty.

The settlers came with ideas they had to junk. Some of their brightest hopes were false. They worked hard and got other people to do their work for them. They were foolish, fierce and surprisingly stubborn. When one thing failed, they tried another. We are their descendants.

But read the whole thing.

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