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The 53 percent, 1609 edition

[ 29 ] November 7, 2011 |

Whatever else might be said about Michele Bachmann’s invocation of 2 Thessalonians (“The Bloodening”), we ought to remember that Bachmann — as a devoted and serious pupil of American history — must also have known that she was offering a shout-out to Captain John Smith, the belligerent self-promoter who served for a brief moment as president of the local council of the Virginia Company from 1608-1609. Under Smith, the Jamestown settlers were obligated to follow Bachmann’s Biblically-inspired command to work or eat, with Smith himself explaining that “by the hazard and endeavors of some thirty or forty, this whole colony [of several hundred] had ever been fed.” In his Genreral History, Smith noted that while the Virginia colony possessed a handful of skilled laborers — and a few others who, though incapable, at least wanted to contribute — “all the rest were poor gentlemen, tradesmen, serving-men, libertines, and such like, ten times more fit to spoil a commonwealth, than either begin one, or but help to maintain one.” When his patience with the idlers expired, Smith had a public hissy fit, announcing his famous policy that “he that gathereth not every day as much as I do, the next day shall be set beyond the river, and be banished from the fort as a drone, till he amend his conditions or starve.”

It’s worth noting, I suppose, that Smith’s orders were conceived with idling gentlemen as much in mind as the scrofulous poor. It’s also worth noting that Smith’s efforts did little to alleviate the long-term Hobbesian conditions that prevailed in Virginia for years after he left the colony forever. But I think it’s even more interesting that in trying to inspire her fellow citizens to great feats of self-reliance, Bachmann — who presumably remains a somewhat viable Presidential candidate for a major political party — would turn to a slogan befitting an experimental, disorganized, resource-strapped, unskilled menagerie of landless gentlemen, unemployed soldiers and indentured servants living in a 17th century malarial swamp. And the Republicans criticize Obama for not being sufficiently optimistic?

Comments (29)

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  1. actor212 says:

    How would she know that? Captain John Smith sounds kinda cheesy, you know, and would offend her delicate religious sensibilities to read about a name on a no-tell motel register.

  2. Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

  3. Pinko Punko says:

    Nooner- I have some pics to send you of some interesting “birth of Texas” displays from the Texas State Park “Washington-on-the-Brazos”- you might need to get out your magnifying glass, but also a time machine/history changer if you want to find the word “slavery” anywhere. Is your e-mail easy for me to find?

  4. Ben says:

    That next to last sentence is great.

  5. Hogan says:

    Are we sure she didn’t pick up the expression from Lenin’s The State and Revolution?

  6. Malaclypse says:

    But I think it’s even more interesting that in trying to inspire her fellow citizens to great feats of self-reliance, Bachmann — who presumably remains a somewhat viable Presidential candidate for a major political party — would turn to a slogan befitting an experimental, disorganized, resource-strapped, unskilled menagerie of landless gentlemen, unemployed soldiers and indentured servants living in a 17th century malarial swamp.

    Yes, but you are not a religious nut.

    Long ago, I had the misfortune of having my education imparted by fundamentalist Baptists. And I remember my civics class, where the instructor taught that any governmental activity not performed by David (who was the only Old Testament figure to be Beloved of God) was something to be opposed by Christians.

    I remember asking whether it was at all possible that principles that may have worked well in a bronze-age pastoral society might not, in fact, apply equally well to an industrial society. I remember being told in no uncertain terms that Truth is Eternal.

    This is a rather long way of saying that Bachmann is not trying to appeal to you, or to me. She is appealing to Perry voters, and she is doing it skillfully.

  7. witless chum says:

    If I had a time machine, I think I’d pick up the old crook and take him to a screening of Pocahantas.

  8. Murc says:

    I’m curious. What did ‘tradesman’ or ‘serving-man’ mean in the context of the time?

    I mean, those words sound like they’d apply to people working a trade or people working as servants (which I suppose in 17th century Virginia would have meant indentured servitude or working for wages?). Those sound like productive people! Why would they get the good Captain’s knickers in a twist?

    • davenoon says:

      Because these guys knew fuck-all about farming and hunting…

      • Murc says:

        Presumably you required tools to be made and serviced in order to farm and/or hunt, and you needed various buildings constructed and maintained to help you do so, and if you were farming for profit you needed trade factors on hand who knew how to get a good price for the goods…

        • DrDick says:

          “Tradesmen” was more likely to refer to shopkeepers (engaged in trade) than to artisans st this time. Having read some of the colonial documents from this period, it is rather clear that only a handful of the original colonists had any useful skills. Most were hopeless layabouts looking to make their fortunes instantly by discovering the vast quantities of gold that they imagined lay about everywhere in the Americas.

          • Simon says:

            No, “tradesman” most definitely referred to an artisan/craftsman. It’s not one who engages in trade as commerce, but one who practices one of the trades, as in trade school.

            The problem, as Edmund Morgan has noted, is that many of the Jamestown settlers practiced trades such as gold-smithing, which had limited application in the colonial environment.

  9. Uncle Kvetch says:

    Bachmann’s biblical exegesis* would seem to preclude not just the proverbial “government handout,” but all forms of charity towards the poor whatsoever. The thousand points of light transformed into a thousand upraised middle fingers.

    Maybe it’s me, but this really does feel like a sea change in hard-right rhetoric: it’s quite a leap from “If you’re not rich, blame the government/the unions/the homos/the welfare queens and young bucks/the pointy-headed elitists/etc.” to Herman Cain’s “If you’re not rich, blame yourself.”

    Can’t wait to see how that plays in Peoria next year.

    *Oh how dearly I would love it if an interviewer were to throw that word at her, just to see her googly eyes get even more googly.

    • Malaclypse says:

      Liberal, bible-denying, hell-awaiting theologians do exegesis. Maybe Papists, who may or may not be saved, might do exegesis. Real Christians know everything in the bible is literally* true.

      * statement does not imply any understanding of what the word “literal” means.

  10. DrDick says:

    I applaud Bachmann’s commitment to strip the idle rich of their assets and send them off to re-education camps.

    What? Why are you looking at me like that and laughing?

  11. rm says:

    That verse is a favorite of John Hagee. If you’ve never seen him, you should look once. Authoritarian silverback alpha-primate with a Bible that he misunderstands with great force and great certainty.

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