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?