Flint School e-Museum
For eight hundred years prior to the establishment of Valentine's Day, the Romans had practiced a pagan celebration in mid-February commemorating young men's rite of passage to the god Lupercus. The celebration featured a lottery in which young men would draw the names of teenage girls from a box. The girl assigned to each young man in that manner would be his sexual companion during the remaining year.
In an effort to do away with the pagan festival, Pope Gelasius ordered a slight change in the lottery. Instead of the names of young women, the box would contain the names of saints. Both men and women were allowed to draw from the box, and the game was to emulate the ways of the saint they drew during the rest of the year. Needless to say, many of the young Roman men were not too pleased with the rule changes.
Instead of the pagan god Lupercus, the Church looked for a suitable patron saint of love to take his place. They found an appropriate choice in Valentine, who, in AD 270 had been beheaded by Emperor Claudius.
Claudius had determined that married men made poor soldiers. So he banned marriage from his empire. But Valentine would secretly marry young men that came to him. When Claudius found out about Valentine, he first tried to convert him to paganism. But Valentine reversed the strategy, trying instead to convert Claudius. When he failed, he was stoned and beheaded.
During the days that Valentine was imprisoned, he fell in love with the blind daughter of his jailer. His love for her, and his great faith, managed to miraculously heal her from her blindness before his death. Before he was taken to his death, he signed a farewell message to her, "From your Valentine." The phrase has been used on his day ever since.
Although the lottery for women had been banned by the church, the mid-February holiday in commemoration of St. Valentine was stilled used by Roman men to seek the affection of women. It became a tradition for the men to give the ones they admired handwritten messages of affection, containing Valentine's name.
The first Valentine card grew out of this practice. The first true Valentine card was sent in 1415 by Charles, duke of Orleans, to his wife. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London at the time.
Cupid, another symbol of the holiday, became associated with it because he was the son of Venus, the Roman god of love and beauty. Cupid often appears on Valentine cards.
Each year at this time, schoolchildren all over America are taught the official Thanksgiving story, and newspapers, radio, and magazines devote vast amounts of time and space to it. It is all very colorful and fascinating.
It is also very deceiving. This official story is nothing like what really happened. It is a fairy tale, a whitewashed and sanitized collection of half-truths which divert attention away from Thanksgiving's real meaning.
The official story has the Pilgrims boarding the Mayflower, coming to America, and establishing the Plymouth colony in the winter of 1620-21. This first winter is hard, and half the colonists die. But the survivors are hard working and tenacious, and they learn new farming techniques from the Indians, The harvest of 1621 is bountiful. The Pilgrims hold a celebration, and give thanks to God. They are grateful for the wonderful new abundant land He has given them.
The official story then has the Pilgrims living more or less happily ever after, each year repeating the first Thanksgiving. Other early colonies also have hard times at first, but they soon prosper and adopt the annual tradition of giving thanks for this prosperous new land called America.
The problem with this official story is that the harvest of 1621 was not bountiful, nor were the colonists hard-working or tenacious. 1621 was a famine year and many of the colonists were lazy thieves.
In his History of Plymouth Plantation, the governor of the colony, William Bradford, reported that the colonists went hungry for years because they refused to work in the field. They preferred instead to steal food. He says the colony was riddled with "corruption," and with "confusion and discontent." The crops were small because "much was stolen both by night and day, before it became scarce eatable."
In the harvest feasts of 1621 and 1622, "all had their hungry bellies filled," but only briefly. The prevailing condition during those years was not the abundance the official story claims, it was famine and death. The first
"Thanksgiving" was not so much a celebration as it was the last meal of condemned men.
But in subsequent years something changes. The harvest of 1623 was different. Suddenly, "instead of famine now God gave them plenty," Bradford wrote, "and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God." Thereafter, he wrote, "any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day." In fact, in 1624, 50 much food was produced that the colonists were able to begin exporting corn.
What happened?. After the poor harvest of 1622, writes Bradford, "they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop." They began to question their form of economic organization.
Roepke and Ludwig Erhard had turned West Germany towards freedom and the resulting "economic miracle." In Italy, Mises' student Luigi Linaudi had, as president, led the successful fight against postwar Communism. In France, his student Jacques Rueffas economic advisor to General DeGaulle-led the fight for the gold standard and pushed back many statist economic controls. In the United States, Mises produced despite his circumstances such students as Murray N. Rothbard, Hans E Sennholz, and Israel Kirzner.
Sadly, he did not live to see the renaissance of interest in his work, which began with. Hayek's Nobel prize in 1974, granted for the Mises-Hayek theory of the business cycle.
Since Mises' death, the center of this new interest has been his widow. She has been, in Murray Rothbard's words, "a one-woman Mises industry," supervising the re-printing, translation, and new editions of his works, and chairing the Ludwig von Mises Institute. She has also written her own moving memoirs, My Years With Ludwig von Mises.
Socialism and its variants still control most of the world, but, notes Dr. Rothbard, "everywhere, in all spheres of thought and action, the modern statism that Ludwig von Mises combatted all his life, is coming under a swelling drumfire of criticism and disillusion." This resurrection of the spirit of freedom and our work to encourage it is the only appropriate monument to the life and thought of a great and noble man.
This Article is reprinted from the November 1995 issue of Conservative Digest. The author expresses his gratitude to the great Misesian economist Professor Murray N. Rothbard, vice president for academic affairs of the Ludwig Von Mises Institute, upon whose work this article is with his gracious permission - based.