Why They Came


By W. J. CAMERON, Ford Motor Co.

A Talk Given on the Ford Sunday Evening Hour, February 9, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 300-301

IT is a common assertion that the original settlers of this country came here in search of religious liberty. Specifically, it is made of the Pilgrim Fathers, but it does not accord with the fact. The Pilgrim Fathers went to Holland for religious liberty, and found it there, and enjoyed it to the utmost of their desire, and from thence they brought it here. What the Pilgrim Fathers came here for was economic opportunity.

Gov. William Bradford, in his "History of Plymouth Plantation," which he began to write ten years after the landing of the Pilgrims, settles any doubt that may exist on that point. Bradford lived with the Pilgrims in Holland, and he says that when they came to Amsterdam "they saw fair and beautiful cities, flowing with abundance of all sorts of wealth and riches, yet it was not long before they saw the grim and grisly face of poverty coming upon them like an armed man, with whom they must buckle and encounter, and from whom they could not fly." So they moved to Leyden, in Holland, where they worked at such employment as they could, Bradford himself becoming a fustian-maker, Edward Winslow a printer, one of them a brewer, another a hatter, two of them wool-carders, and so on. Yet so hard was their lot that many who came to them out of England to enjoy religious liberty with them, found economic conditions so insupportable that, as Bradford says, they went back home, choosing persecution in England "rather than this liberty in Holland with these afflictions." Most pathetic of all is Bradford's reference to the burden of that hard life upon the Pilgrims' children,driving some of them to run away as sailors or soldiers. Besides, there was the constant threat of war.

Then, as others have done in every generation since, and millions would be doing now if the gates were open, the Pilgrims came to the New World—to America. They had their religious liberty and that they brought with them, but they had no economic opportunity, they hoped to create that here. This nation had its birth from these and other settlers who felt the burden of economic scarcity and knew its power to blight every level of life. Life is not complete until its kitchen-side, its economic element, is mastered.

That is why we never feel that we are dealing with merely material things nor stressing a materialistic emphasis when we speak of the economic element. Men are not made materialists by the possession but by the lack of adequate material supply. The Pilgrims in Holland were saddened by the devitalizing effect of scarcity on the ideals they tried to inculcate in their children, and all the world has been saddened to see how, under economic pressure and in hope to relieve it, large groups of mankind willingly have surrendered the higher elements of liberty for promises of bread. And, as from age to age History informs us with monotonous regularity, they lose both their liberty and their bread.

Liberty is a trinity. It is the truth that makes men free—the truth in a three-fold relation. It first endows men with a sense of spiritual freedom—the truth concerning man as a living soul—without which it is idle to speak of or hope for any other form of freedom. Spiritual freemen cannot long remain political bondmen—they are bound to discoverand apply the truth concerning the life politic. And having attained these, and living in a manner not too unworthy of them, men begin to enter into economic liberty—the truth concerning things; for things are made to subserve the higher and permanent values of life. Surrender any element of this tri-unity of truth, and a blow is dealt to all.

There seems to be an appointed order in these matters with which we tamper to our loss. It would seem that the economic liberation we desire, and toward which we have been moving for a century and a half, has its roots elsewhere than in itself, and if deprived of the nourishment of those roots, its growth is retarded.

It is no disparagement of the nobility of those who firstbegan to build this country to say that they came here for economic reasons. But it is a reflection on us if we fail to see that only their possession of those other qualities enabled them to set forth so courageously and so completely on the economic enterprise. Such equipment as they possessed never had been present in such balance at the foundation of any nation. And, in time, our economic sense will recognize that. The purpose of things—of all production and all exchange—is to implement political liberation and to serve moral liberation; and these in turn will widen the service of things. It is a great order of development, and it has attained here, not for our sake only but for all the world, the most serviceable "high" in history.