The Mayflower Spirit Lives On

Ambassador Robert Wood Johnson

We are taking a leap into the future and setting out to make history. Because in the United States and the UK, the Mayflower spirit lives on.

The Mayflower Spirit Lives On
By Ambassador Robert Wood Johnson
September 16, 2020

 

This op-ed by Ambassador Johnson was printed in the Wednesday, September 15, 2020 edition of the The Western Morning News.

Four hundred years ago, twenty-three English families boarded the Mayflower ship in Plymouth and set sail on a hazardous journey across the Atlantic to start a new life on a vast and unknown continent. It was a daring leap of faith which would change the course of history forever. Not only was this ultimately the genesis of the United States as we know it, it was also the source of the unique bond which has existed between the American and British people ever since.

There are now over 28 million Americans – myself included – who can trace their ancestry directly back to that handful of bold adventurers onboard the Mayflower. America’s first-ever Ambassador to Britain, John Adams, was also a descendant, as were eight other U.S. Presidents and a whole host of American icons – from writer Henry Longfellow, to Noah Webster of dictionary fame, to stars of the screen like Marilyn Monroe, Orson Welles, and Clint Eastwood.

To honor America’s roots in the United Kingdom and the profound connections between our two countries that go back four centuries, thousands of volunteers on both sides of the Atlantic have been at work planning all kinds of celebrations, from Mayflower children’s performances to art and literature festivals, exhibitions and history talks.

Due to COVID, many of these events will now be postponed to next year, but as an American living in the UK, I have been genuinely moved to see so many British citizens go to great lengths in order to make this important anniversary in our shared history special. I particularly want to thank the amazing volunteers and organizers in Plymouth whose work is a testament to their own unique link to the Mayflower story.

Even the pandemic could not sink every Mayflower celebration this year, and I am honored to be in Plymouth today to launch a new, state-of-the-art Mayflower. It is only fitting that American and British scientists teamed up to design and engineer this ship, which will ultimately retrace the path of the original Mayflower – but this time, the Mayflower will be completely unmanned.

Powered by solar and wind energy and self-navigated by the most cutting-edge Artificial Intelligence systems in the world, this Mayflower 2.0 will be one of the first full-sized and fully autonomous ships ever to cross the Atlantic, performing vital marine research along the way that will help us better understand and protect the ocean for generations to come.

This complex and ambitious project is the result of a collaboration between American tech giant IBM, marine researchers ProMare and scientists at the Universities of Plymouth and Birmingham. Their work will push the boundaries of what is possible in autonomous shipping and help to unlock a new age of marine exploration.

Once again, we are taking a leap into the unknown and heading out over uncharted waters. In the United States and the United Kingdom, innovation, invention and adventure are built into our DNA. It has never been in our nature to fear change – instead, we make positive change happen. From George Stephenson and the Wright Brothers, to Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison, to Tim Berners-Lee and Steve Jobs, Americans and Britons have always been great innovators.

Today, the U.S. and the UK continue to develop the institutions and the talent that change the world. Just this month, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings revealed that almost half of the top 100 research institutes worldwide are based in either the U.S. or the UK. No other country even makes the top ten. Between us, America and Britain account for around a third of all winners of the Field Medal for mathematics, and three quarters of Turing Prize winners – the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for computing. Speaking of Nobel Prizes, our countries top the table – 1 and 2.

Our countries are academic powerhouses – and the more we can link the best of Britain with the best of America, the further we will all advance. The UK is America’s clear partner of choice and that’s why, in the very first year of President Trump’s Administration, we signed an ambitious U.S.-UK Science and Technology agreement to pave the way for the great discoveries of the next 400 years.

It doesn’t stop there. The U.S. and the UK always look to the future and what more we can accomplish together. As I write this, your trade experts are meeting with ours online, deep into their fourth round of talks to agree a pioneering U.S.-UK free trade agreement. We have already forged one of the most successful economic partnerships in history. We trade almost 300 billion dollars a year and have the world’s biggest investment partnership, worth over a trillion dollars, which brings jobs to millions of workers in every corner of both countries.

This special economic relationship will grow even stronger when this trade deal is done. It will lead to growth and prosperity for our companies and workers, whether they come from Plymouth, England, or Plymouth, Massachusetts – or from the thousands of communities in our countries where ingenuity and enterprise thrive. Together, we will set the gold standard for global trade in the 21st Century. We are taking a leap into the future and setting out to make history. Because in the United States and the UK, the Mayflower spirit lives on.

Ambassador Robert Wood Johnson