Unfortunately, what we know of the life and actions of Thomas Morton are essentially subject to the writings of William Bradford, and as Morton’s actions are in conflict with the core values of Bradford and his Puritan perspective, the material we have must be taken with a grain of salt. Nonetheless—perhaps even with this bias in mind—the conflict between the Puritans and Morton illustrates the seeds of a dichotomy which have continued to divide Americans from the past, through the present, and likely into the future: there are some who have an innate need to control and bring order to perceived chaos, and there are others who simply do not perceive any chaos in the given subject. In the case of Bradford and Morton in Of Plymouth Plantation, Bradford perceives the place of Merry Mount as a locale of chaos and disorder while Morton views his home and the surrounding wilderness as a place of great bounty and freedom. The recent attempts at the legalization of marijuana are examples of the dichotomy continuing between the one side that wishes to control perceived chaos and the other side that wishes to enjoy the perceived bounty and freedom of the given subject.
As Bradford begins to describe Merry Mount, he immediately paints a picture of chaos where the mind’s eye of the reader is immediately struck with a scene of savages dancing about. He describes a particular event during the course of time when Morton had “become the lord of misrule and maintained (as it were) a school of atheism” that illustrates the people of Merry Mount dancing around a maypole with food and wine, trading with Indians, consorting with Indian women, all behavior considered quite “licentious” by Puritan standards (Bradford, 72). He even references Bacchus (Dionysus being the Greek counterpart) which immediately attaches Morton and his group to those values—those being the values of creativity, celebration, festivity, a challenge to authority, etc, all of which are diametrically opposed to Puritan values of restraint, chastity, and control.
“Again, the portrait of America becomes painted by this dichotomy.”
Too, from the Puritan perspective, it is worth noting that their desire to control chaos wasn’t just because chaos was thought to be intrinsically evil: they wished to control chaos, to control the wild nature both in man and nature itself because they felt they were on a special errand from the divine to do so. Also, they believed that they were judged not only by personal restraint and chastity: they were also judged upon the merits of their community as a whole. Having a neighboring community partake in such frivolity only served to diminish the divinity of the Puritan community. In order to maintain the image and integrity of the “City on the Hill,” order must be maintained.
Another conflict highlighted here is Morton’s habit of dealing in firearms with the Indians. Of course from the Puritan perspective, as well as that of English concern as a whole, arming the Indians was not in the best interests of the colonies, given that they saw Native Americans as a wild man, an agent of Satan. From Morton’s perspective, however, trading firearms with the Native Americans was a good deal because it established good relations between them and Morton’s group. With this observation, that the Indians “account[ed] their bows and arrows but baubles in comparison of them,” it also gave a means to increase their liberty, providing them a means of more effectively defending themselves from the encroaching and zealous colonists and, of course, a more efficient means of hunting (73). Later, in order to affect the control the majority of the colonists desired, Morton was removed by the authorities “by force” (73). Yet this conflict, or rather the broader value with which this conflict represents, is not an isolated moment in history.
This conflict between control and liberty is the brush that has painted the picture of America since before it even became the United States, and the recent attempts at the legalization of marijuana and the resistance thereof is a contemporary portrait painted by the same brush. On the one hand—according to various medical sources across the globe—marijuana is seen as a means to relieve chronic pain (which has the added benefit of increasing the liberty of those who partake, given that more liberty can be liked from life without the hindrance of chronic pain). According to an article written by Bill McCarburg, M.D. on www.nationalpainfoundation.org, “Cannabinoid medicines appear very promising, although the subject often is obscured by controversy, prejudice, and confusion…” On the other hand, as suggested by McCarburg, marijuana carries certain stigmas, as those who regularly enjoy smoke are seen as frivolous and, to a degree, licentious. Again, the portrait of America becomes painted by this dichotomy.
Most recently, the United States federal government has mandated that California must shut down all of its marijuana dispensaries in accordance with federal law, and if they do not comply within 45 days of issuance of this mandate, proprietors will be subject to criminal charges and forfeiture of their property (Leff, “California Marijuana”). This is not so different than when the Puritans ousted Morton because of their “errand” to bring order to a perceived chaos and abolish licentious behavior. Truly, the City on the Hill must be maintained, the Maypole of Merry Mount must be destroyed, and the liberty of those who are instigators of such lamentable behavior must be sponged.
Bradford, William. Of Plymouth Plantation. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Comp. Nina Baym. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. 2008. 57-75. Print.
Leff, Lisa. “California Marijuana Dispensaries Targeted For Closure By Federal Prosecutors.” www.huffingtonpost.com. 6-OCT-2011. Web. 23-OCT-2011.
McCarberg, Bill. “Marijuana and Pain Management.” www.nationalpainfoundation.org. 2011. Web. 23-OCT-2011.