Pilgrim’s Progress: How Thanksgiving Should Be A Celebration Of Nonconformity

Below is my column in The Hill on the attacks on the Pilgrims this Thanksgiving and why they embodied a critical characteristic in our country’s history: nonconformity. Indeed, the first major act that these courageous people did upon their arrival on these shores was the signing of a compact of rights that affirmed:



“solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do 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.”

Here is the column:

Thanksgiving dinners around the nation this year could come with a side of shame. College newspapers have called on students to confront their racist relatives, and Abigail Adams of Indiana University of Pennsylvania gave students instructions for how to “decolonize” Thanksgiving. Pundit Jason Johnson declared this holiday to be called “Colonizer Christmas,” while others have insisted it be called “Thankstaking.”

Despite the growing attacks on the Pilgrims, they embodied one defining character of our country as people who refused to conform. The problem with the Pilgrims is not that they came to these shores but that now, four centuries later, Europe seems to have followed them with the exact types of restrictions that the Pilgrims fled, which could find support from some critical figures of the next presidential administration.

Such objections to Thanksgiving could be one reason there has been little celebration for the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims arriving in November 1620 at what is now Cape Cod out in Massachusetts. Indeed, most people seem unaware of the anniversary, which has been Voldemorted turned into the “anniversary that must not be named” . . .  unless it is to denounce it.

There is no doubt that the colonization of our nation led to great atrocities against the native population as well as disease and displacement. It is an indelible and shameful part of our history. Yet in this shrill debate, there is little room for a complete understanding of the Pilgrims or who they were. Critics of the holiday often push their own simplistic stereotypes over the Pilgrims while they denounce similar stereotypes in modern life. Johnson, for instance, insists the Pilgrims should not be viewed as victims seeking religious freedom but as part of a “commercial venture.”

The Pilgrims in reality were extraordinary individuals with an inspiring tale. They were under the persecuted minority known as the English Separatist Church. Hounded out of England, they made it over to the Netherlands to pursue freedom of faith. They were eventually known as “nonconformists” for refusing to adhere to orthodoxy. They later sailed aboard a ship called the Mayflower to search for freedom in the New World. Indeed, their great Mayflower Compact was the first articulation of government of the people and a new “civil body politic” in this hemisphere of earth.

The fact that the first settlers were nonconformists holds special meaning for civil libertarians. Our country was shaped by nonconformists since the Pilgrims made landfall. After playing a critical role with our independence, Thomas Paine irritated the framers with his words, including John Adams, who called him a “crapulous mass.” Nonconformists like Elizabeth Stanton and Susan Anthony demanded full rights for women despite getting jailed and harassed. Nonconformists like Martin Luther King demanded all those same rights for African Americans. Nonconformists like Cesar Chavez did so for migrants, and Harvey Milk did so for homosexuals.

They are why Confucius observed, “A reasonable man can adjust himself to the world. An unreasonable man wants the world to adjust itself to him. So all progress is made by unreasonable people.” The Pilgrims refused to be silenced in order to advocate for their values. They show the progress over history produced by unreasonable nonconformists.

Europe has never widely embraced such nonconformity, notably the type of speech protections which define our constitutional system. Speech still has been rolled back in countries like Germany, England, and France. Four centuries later, Europe now seems to be landing here in full force. Several Democrats and liberal academics call for censorship and the regulation of speech to achieve greater social harmony. The Pilgrims would be the first to warn that harmony for some is conformity for others.

The next administration could cut back speech. Joe Biden has demanded that technology companies block those people, including Donald Trump, who spread “disinformation” or undermine society. Advocates for speech controls often employ Orwellian terms, such as Richard Blumenthal, who has called for “robust content modification” on the internet. The Pilgrims would have had no difficulty understanding the ramifications of any rules because they were “robustly modified” out from Europe.

One of the more chilling cases of this trend is Richard Stengel, the man selected to lead the transition team on media agencies and policies. He wrote a Washington Post  column last year that denounced speech as a threat to harmony. He failed to convince readers that what they need is less freedom. “All speech is not equal, and where truth cannot drive out lies, we must add new guardrails. I am all for protecting thought that we hate, but not speech that incites hate,” Stengel argued.

Stengel showed frustration with his answer for Arab diplomats who asked why we tolerate people who curse religion. “Even the most sophisticated Arab diplomats I dealt with did not understand why the First Amendment allows someone to burn a Koran. Why, they had asked me, would you ever want to protect that? It was a fair problem. The First Amendment protects thought that we hate, but it should not protect hateful speech which can cause violence by one group against another,” he wrote.

Stengel was referring to Arab diplomats from an area of the world where people are flogged and even executed for blasphemy. Yet he was unable to give a reason why we would tolerate such freedom of speech. People cannot be forced to conform in the interests of harmony. His view could convince one to board a ship in search of the New World.

The problem is that we are out of places to discover. So this Thanksgiving, I will celebrate the Pilgrims and all nonconformists. One of my students is even making an orange duck in the ultimate act of nonconformity. Despite my culinary traditions, I will even embrace an orange duck as a dish fit for the continued progress toward unabashed nonconformity.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates online @JonathanTurley.

45 thoughts on “Pilgrim’s Progress: How Thanksgiving Should Be A Celebration Of Nonconformity”

    1. Again, Antifa is Democratic Party muscle. They used RICO suits and legislation of dubious constitutionality to break Operation Rescue, a fairly benign organization. Our court system is not legitimate.

  1. What is the “due diligence” that the Pennsylvania supremes complained that petitioners lacked?

    1. Didn’t file in time. But one wonders if the suit would have been rejected if filed earlier as well.

      1. “. . . the suit would have been rejected if filed earlier as well.”

        Undoubtedly. Since this voting fiasco started, the PA Supreme Court has been rubber-stamping executive usurpation of legislative powers — and has permitted clear violations of both the PA and US constitutions.

        On to SCOTUS (hopefully) — with Alito leading the way (and this time, with Barrett).

  2. It would be helpful if you would attempt to be honest as to the origins of the pathology of our country. It started with your profession from the highest levels at the Supreme Court under Fred Vinson and Earl Warren. You cling to a myth of democracy that is a religion, and has nothing in common with the foundational principles of the founding of this nation. The Pilgrims would have rebuked everything you espouse, Mr. Turley. So did Fr. John Courtney Murray, SJ in his classic book “We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition (A Sheed & Ward Classic)”, 1960

    To wit, George Weigel, Oct 28, 2020:

    In his wide-ranging book, Murray examined the deterioration of the moral and cultural foundations of American public life, a process he thought had been underway for some time. Mainline Protestantism could no longer help buttress those foundations; its doctrinal and moral confusions were part of the problem, not the solution. Nor could the country rely on its great centers of higher education for cultural ballast; the prestige universities, Murray wrote, had abandoned the classic philosophical and moral traditions of the West, settling comfortably into the dual ruts of pragmatism (“What’s right is what works”) and utilitarianism (“What’s good is what’s useful”). The notion that freedom was having the right to do what we ought—meaning that genuine freedom is always tethered to truth and ordered to goodness—was being supplanted by the thin and dangerous notion of freedom as willfulness.

    What would happen, Murray warned, was not going to be pretty: “. . . the noble many-storeyed mansion of democracy will be dismantled, levelled to the dimensions of a flat majoritarianism, which is no mansion but a barn, perhaps even a tool shed in which the weapons of tyranny may be forged.”


    enter Pope Benedict XVI “dictatorship of relativism”

  3. There is no doubt that the colonization of our nation led to great atrocities against the native population as well as disease and displacement. It is an indelible and shameful part of our history.

    The ‘native population’ in any given locale was there because they ejected the previous inhabitants and prevented any interlopers from hunting, herding, and cultivating in said areas. The state of nature is … rough.

    You want to see what an actual Amerindian civilization looked like, take a gander at the Aztecs and Incas.

    1. x 3 once again demonstrates that he knows almost nothing about the indigenees.

      Hint: they were the *first* peoples in the Americas.

      1. I am not quite sure what being ‘first’ peoples means in this context. Does that confer title? Not really since our concept of ownership and title is not universally shared. The Indians regularly conquered and enslaved each other. There was a reason Custer had Indians on his side at the Little Big Horn. And there is a reason why the Conquistadors had Indian allies fighting the Aztec and Inca.

        1. Young, you need to find a better source regarding the subjugation of the Aztecs and separately the Inca nation.

          1. Bernal Diaz was a participant and a witness. He’s a start. The Tlascans, enemies of the Aztecs, joined forces with Cortez to attack Mexico City. There were many other alliances of convenience in Mexico and Peru. Perhaps you could say what better sources you have. They will have to explain how a few hundred Spaniards conquered two empires with millions if not with Indian allies.

            1. Young, in the case of the Inca empire, it wasn’t even hundreds of Spaniards.

              But in neither case were there “millions” of indigenees.

              1. Aztecs ruled about 5 to 6 million people. Incas said to have ruled close to 10 million.

                Even without a census the Spaniards obviously were vastly outnumbered.

                But that doesn’t address the better sources you mentioned and I am not sure how your reference to turkeys clarifies anything.

                1. Young, those population estimates are much too high. In any case, most people were serfs, not warriors.

                  The warriors could not compete against armed men on horseback. So just a few sufficed to capture the Inca emperor.

                  Turkeys? Well, the Pueblo Indians lived further north and are still in the same area. Which is in the contiguous USA.

                  1. You cited wikipedia above. Those population figures also came from wikipedia.

                    Good for one, good for the other.

                    No population consists entirely of warriors but there is usually a correspondence between total people and the number of warriors it can produce. There were many more Indian warriors than Spaniards. Not all Spaniards had horses and it is not always the case that foot can’t fight cavalry. Waterloo is a relatively recent example.

                    If you read Bernal Diaz you would have a better understanding of the conflicts.

                    Still don’t see the relevance of turkeys to your position.

                    1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aztec_Empire
                      states nothing about the total population.

                      Ah, but the Inca warriors couldn’t stand up to the mounted Spaniards. I assume that the same was true for the Aztecs.

                      Turkeys? Just showing that x 3 knows almost nothing about the American indigenees.

                    2. You can doubt the population estimate. It is only an estimate, after all. However I assume it is based on something and I am not sure what supports your doubts. The Tlascans alone nearly overwhelmed Cortez, and there many more Aztecs and their allies. Another wikipedia article gives the Aztec population estimate.

                      A major disadvantage for both Inca and Aztec was the social structure. Once the Spaniards had possession of Montezuma the empire was rigid. When Montezuma was killed the Mexicans rose up and drove the Spanish out of the city and they had to muster remarkable skills to retake it, including building their own sailing ships to control the lake. Horses are only part of the story.

      2. x 3 once again demonstrates that he knows almost nothing about the indigenees.

        Put up or shut up.

        1. x 3, my friend Bill Lipe recently published regarding the domesticated turkeys of the peoples in the Southeast Utah region. The turkeys were not eaten.

          What did the turkeys provide?

      3. they were the *first* peoples in the Americas

        Actually, no. The Americas include land masses from South America, Central America, Caribbean and North America regions.

        The Indians of the Caribbean did what every other group on the planet does, has done, and will continue to do till the end of time: warfare. it’s the human condition to be at war with one’s surroundings, neighbors, Creator.

        The Tainos were ruthless Indians from South America that traveled to Cuba and eventually present day Jamaica, Hispanola and Puerto Rico. They conquered the Caribs Indians who preceded them in Cuba. Caribs, for their part, were cannibals and delighted in roasting whomever was in their way. Ciboneys, Guanahatabeys, Arawaks, Lucayos and other “natives” traveled from South America or Central America to do what the Spaniards did to them: conquer, rape women, impregnate them and kill whomever they wished. The Lucayos had an interesting custom of flattening heads….literally. The Incas and Aztecs were hardly the only group of Indians who were brutal…far from it. See:


        I had a Haitian classmate in medical school who was indignant about the USA celebrating Columbus Day. I pulled him aside one day and asked him to list the names of the Indian groups of the Caribbean islands. He had no clue. I rattled them off and asked him, “do you think they sat around smoking the peace pipe and braiding each others hair?”. He walked away in shock and later approached me again to thank me. He had no idea of his own roots.

        Then there are the many warring Indian groups of Florida like the Calusa of South West Florida. They gleefully pillaged other neighboring tribes just because they could.


    1. If you’ve ever had anything to say worth reading, you’d have said it by now.

    2. And yet, here you are, reading and commenting. Maybe you can write him and ask if you can guest post on his blog? I’m sure he’d be interested in your views.

  4. “College newspapers have called on students to confront their racist relatives, and Abigail Adams of Indiana University of Pennsylvania gave students instructions for how to “decolonize” Thanksgiving. Pundit Jason Johnson declared this holiday to be called “Colonizer Christmas,” while others have insisted it be called “Thankstaking’
    I hate the miserable people who hate this country. Why don’t they just leave? Believe me, no patriot would miss them.

    1. Both are tenured academics. There’s a lot of babble about ‘privilege’ in this country, but among the odd minority who actually do operate under something resembling ‘private law’ – or a benefit which emerges consequent to state policy – are tenured academics. Adams in particular represents a manifestation of the faculty patronage mill in action, inasmuch as she was offered berths in graduate school, credentials, and now a tenured position at one of Pennsylvania’s state colleges even though she’s done no scholarly work in her ‘discipline’ that would have been recognized as such 50 years ago. Anthropology and sociology faculties are badly corrupted and function as apologetical disciplines nowadays, with dissidents subject to professional harassment. Here we have an ‘anthropologist’ who has never done any fieldwork in a primitive locale, has never published anything which suggests she’s acquainted with linguistics, archaeology, animal behavior, or human anatomy, and whose published work is a lot of babble about Guatemalan politics. Note also that her department has been allocated nine positions. An institution with the enrollment of ‘Indiana University of Pennsylvania’ likely has shy of 900 FTE faculty positions. About 0.5% of all baccalaureate degrees awarded in this country each year are awarded in anthropology. If that college is an average public college, their faculty allocation exceeds the share of students seeking to study anthropology by a factor of 2. Their course enrollments will be propped up by inane distribution requirements which are in place due to convention and inertia.

  5. Turley as usual seems to be quite selective on why the pilgrims, which were a sect of the Puritans left Europe. Turley leaves out the fact that they were being persecuted by the church of England which was the governing body on religious “freedom”. it was one religious institution prosecuting another. Pilgrims came WITH the puritans who believed the church of England needed to be purified.

    The most ironic thing about Turley’s article is that the pilgrims and their brothers the puritans didn’t believe in celebrating holidays. They didn’t celebrate Christmas or Easter. Because it wasn’t sanctioned in the bible. They sought to abandon such practices. That certainly would deem them extreme leftists in this century.

    Their freedom of religion lasted less than a year before they imposed their own beliefs on everyone else who arrived after them. Depriving THEM of their own freedoms to do what they wanted. Christmas was outlawed in 1659 in Massachusetts Bay Colony until it was repealed in 1681, a little over two decades. These people were not what embodies the values we hold today at all. The Charter Turley posts was the equivalent of a mission statement any business has on paper theses days. They are essentially worthless declarations “showing’ their ideals which we all know are never truly followed.

    1. …or maybe none of that was relevant to his post? I don’t think he’d deny the facts, but it strays too far from the point he was making.

  6. While Thanksgiving has something to do with the Pilgrims, it is no longer about them. It has become a day when family and friends meet, socialize, eat, and by doing so acknowledge their gratitude for living in a free and open society. To bring history into the holiday is to invite discord.
    The Pilgrims were not tolerant. They left the Netherlands because even though they had much in common theologically with the Dutch Reformed Church because both had been influenced by Calvin, they did not agree with its theology. Like the Catholics, the Pilgrims were disadvantaged and persecuted in England, but they in turn disadvantaged and persecuted those whose religious beliefs they found heretical, including Catholics.
    The concept of tolerance did not originate with the Pilgrims, nor the Bishop of Canterbury, nor the British Parliaament; it was the result of fifty years of religious wars in France which led a group called the “politiques” to argue that private religious beliefs must be separate from the public interests of the Kingdom. Toleration, in a narrow sense, was first enunciated by Henri IV, a Protestant who turned Catholic to become King, and sought to placate and domestic Protestant rebels by proclaiming the Edict of Nantes in 1598, which allowed Huguenots to practice their religion in certain locations, but not within shoutiong distance of the Court.
    Thanksgiving is not about religious tolerance, nor is it about self-governance. It is a contemporary American holiday, whose links to the 1600s are at best tenuous.
    There was little religious tolerance in Europe until 1648. Religious wars were the norm, and the idea of separating Church and State would have appeared to most people as a ludicrous, and heretical, proposition. It was not until the 1700s that thinkers like Jefferson and Madison would formulate the principles on which the United States was founded.
    On Thanksgiving, we celebrate our good fortune to be Americans, regardless of when our families might have arrived, which colony they settled in, and what our former or current religious faith might be. Attacks on Thanksgiving are unfortunate precisely because they invoke the sort of sectarian and religious divisions which made the early history of the American colonies and Europe so intolerant, so violent, and so bloody. It took centuries for Europeans to understand that tolerance is about allowing and accepting that what you do not believe or embrace, not about forcing others to accept your beliefs and tailor their speech to suit your preconceptions.
    The Pilgrims were nonconformists, but above all else, they were zealous religious rebels who would be uncomfortable with today’s ideas of inclusivity and tolerance.
    For a liberal notion of nonconformism, Voltaire’s On Toleration or J. S. Mill’s On Liberty offer better discussion of toleration and nonconformity.

  7. There is no doubt that the colonization of our nation led to great atrocities against the native population as well as disease and displacement. It is an indelible and shameful part of our history.

    Is there any modern civilization on this planet that didn’t get there through conflict, atrocity, displacement and/or disease? Natives were already warring long before foreigners landed here. Cultures have and will always conflict. One will usually prevail.

    Our legacy however is not that only one culture survived. We created a nation where subcultures could live in harmony. It’s certainly indelible, but not shameful.

    What is a disgrace to that legacy is how our political elites actively pursue conflict between these subcultures.

  8. That the Pilgrims, who never called themselves by that name, came to the New World to flee persecution is a widely held myth. Yes, they were persecuted in England but they moved to Holland where they had complete religious freedom. They spent 10 years in Holland but became fearful that their children were becoming Dutch. They sent representatives to London to obtain financial backing to establish a new colony in Virginia. They drew up the Mayflower Compact after they reached shore on Cape Cod because they knew they didn’t have a charter – which would have governed them – to settle there. As a matter of fact, English colonists had established Jamestown FOURTEEN YEARS before the Pilgrims set sail and had established representative government in 1619, more than two years before the Mayflower Compact was drawn up. Americas founding and democracy doesn’t stem from New England and the Plymouth Colony, which was only democratic for those who adhered to Separatist believes, it stems from Virginia.

    1. I think that few had any tolerance for the beliefs of others until Roger Williams made it a goal. Tolerance for difference is not the default setting for human sympathies.

    1. Another off-topic post by Anonymous.

      Given how he bores us, imagine what he must be like to live with.

    2. Here’s the upshot of the judge’s decision:

      “Additionally, Petitioners appear to have established a likelihood to succeed on the merits because Petitioners have asserted the Constitution does not provide a mechanism for the legislature to allow for expansion of absentee voting without a constitutional amendment.”

      1. Sam, thank you for the addition which is most important. You got to the heart of the issue.

  9. Free speech. Pilgrims were for it. Sprec Frei or forever hold your piece. Just don’t aim your piece at anyone.

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