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The 400th Birthday of Individual Freedom Begins

 The 400th Birthday of Individual Freedom Begins


J. Michael Sharman


 


 


The charter for individual freedom was signed 400 years ago.


Before that day on April 10, 1606, no person on earth had any real freedom, nor any hope of obtaining it. They could only wish for whatever prerogatives might be granted to them by their king, emperor, master, chief, or lord. Before that day, nowhere on earth did a person have the full collection of rights that we do: to own our own land; to choose our occupation; to choose our leaders; to worship as we choose; or, simply, to be free.


The peoples of Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe were not free, not even free in the most basic of ways.


The tribal chiefs and kings of the Guinea Coast of Africa had been practicing slavery for hundreds of years before they began trading captured slaves for European trade goods in the 16th century. Slaves, in fact, were one of the few items of income-producing property a common African could own, because no system of private land ownership then existed.


American Indians also captured and traded slaves. The Native American tribe known as the Illinois had an extensive trade network in which they would trade captured Pawnees and other Great Plains tribes as slaves. In the East, the Eno were a slave-trading tribe of the Virginia and North Carolina Piedmont who used Occaneechi Island as a trading mart to distribute slaves captured from enemy tribes. (One author even theorizes that Sir Walter Raleigh's Lost Colony got lost by dispersion through the Eno slave market.)


In China in the 1600s, under the Ming Dynasty, the hereditary chieftains and "manorial lords" kept taxes and tribute flowing to the Ming royal court, often through the use of slavery, but always with the use of forced labor.


In Europe, people lived under the feudal or "tied labor" system as bondmen, villeins, and serfs. They had no rights to own land or property, but  were paid with shares of the produce they labored for, and got only the few privileges which the lords who held the land chose to grant to them. The lords themselves also had no true freedom, but were under a strict and often arbitrary system of submission to their king.


           Life, liberty, and happiness are, and have always been, inextricably intertwined.Without individual freedom, the bulk of the European people lived in extreme poverty.  In 17th century Lyons, France, for example, a person was considered to be in poverty when they could not make enough money in one day to buy a loaf of bread. It is estimated that a quarter to half the population of 17th century England lived at or below this line of destitution.


True freedom does not begin or end by force or power, true freedom begins with our faith and beliefs. Tyranny's most coercive act is not controlling our bodies by slavery or other forced labor, tyranny's most coercive act is its attempt to control our faith and our beliefs.


In England, during Queen Elizabeth's reign the Parliament had passed a law in 1582 that made it treason, punishable by death, to worship in any way other than that permitted by the Church of England which, of course, was controlled by the queen.


When King James took the throne upon Queen Elizabeth's death, one thousand hopeful clergyman signed the Millenary Petition in January of 1604 asking for greater freedom and purer worship within the state-governed Church of England.


King James scorned their request and declared: "I will make them conform themselves or I will harry them out of the land." The king correctly recognized that a free church is inherently a threat to an absolute dictator. He reasoned that if he did not have complete control of the church, "Then Jack, Tom, Will and Dick shall meet at their pleasure and censure me and my council… I will have one doctrine, one religion in substance and ceremony."


Two years later, a group of  businessmen, The Virginia Company, asked the King for a royal charter approving a colonizing expedition to that part of the New World which Raleigh had named "Virginia". King James signed the charter hoping to expand his empire in the New World, but what that royal document really began was the worldwide spread of democracy and individual freedom.


Some people think that when The First Charter of Virginia was signed on April 10, 1606. it just began the process of establishing Jamestown as the first permanent English colony in the New World. It certainly did that, but more importantly, it began the process of allowing  people  all over the world to have hope in the possibility that some day, somehow, they could be free.


 


 


 


 


Sources:


Bartlett, Robert M., The Pilgrim Way, Pilgrim Press (1971), p.52-54


Chronicle of America, Chronicle Publications, 1989 p.42


The British National Archives,


http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/citizenship/citizen_subject/citizenship1.htm


Bernstein, Andrew, "The Destitution of Pre-Capitalist Europe" Capitalism Magazine (January 23, 2006)


Letter from Father Jacques Marquette to the Reverend Father Superior of the missions (1669), The Jesuit relations and allied documents, Vol. 54, edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites, pp. 168-195. Pageant, New York. (P. 191)


"Searching for Saponi Town" http://www.saponitown.com/timeline.htm


McMullan, Philip S. Jr., "A Search for the Lost Colony in Beechland" http://www.lost-colony.com/Beechland.html

"Excavating Occaneechi Town: Archaeology of an Eighteenth-Century Indian Village
in North Carolina"
http://www.ibiblio.org/rla/dig/html/data/content/files/text/report.txt

Miller, Lee, Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony, 
Penguin Books (2000) pp. 258-259.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs,  the People's Republic of China
http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/ljzg/3584/t17906.htm