By George Noga
Most Americans know about the first Thanksgiving in autumn 1621 between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians to celebrate the initial harvest in the new land. It truly is a feel-good story of peaceful, multi-cultural celebration and is de rigeur pedagogy in schools and churches.
Indeed, it is a comfortable shibboleth insofar as it goes; but it is not the whole story.
“The first Thanksgiving was very nearly the last.”
There is much more to the Pilgrims’ saga than is taught in schools because it contradicts the ersatz version of history favored by government schools. Most churches eschew the entire story because it doesn’t comport with their idealized view of human nature. Few adults know the full story; do you?
The Complete Story of the Pilgrims
When the Pilgrims landed in 1620, they were governed by the Mayflower Compact and also by an agreement with English investors who funded the expedition. Pursuant to these agreements, the Pilgrims established a form of communal, utopian property ownership. All profits and benefits from trade, farming, working, fishing or any other means were placed into the common stock and withdrawn as needed from the common stock. The women who washed clothes and dressed meat did so for everyone and not just for their own families. This is pure communism: from each according to his ability; to each according to his need.
“When the Pilgrims landed in 1620, they lived and operated under a socialist, utopian form of property ownership indistinguishable from pure communism.”
By 1623 it was obvious the colony was barely producing enough corn to keep everyone alive. Fresh supplies from England were few and far between. Without some major change, the colony would face famine and starvation. In his chronicle quoted below, Governor William Bradford described what was going wrong and how it was solved.
“All this while no supply was heard of, neither knew they when they might expect any. So they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. At length, after much debate, the Governor (with the advise of the chiefest among them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves.
And so there was assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of the number, for that end, only for present use (but made no division for inheritance) and ranged all boys and youth under some family. This had very good success, for it made all hands industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.”
“Corn production increased and famine was averted because private ownership supplanted communism.”
With small crops and no new supply, the Pilgrims divided parcels among the families. Those who under communism would pretend they couldn’t work due to infirmity, weakness or inability now gladly labored mightily in the fields. Corn production increased dramatically and famine was averted because communism was supplanted by private ownership. Bradford’s account goes on to describe why the communal system failed. Understanding the reasons for the failure is just as important, if not more important, as learning about the failure itself. Governor Bradford:
“The experience that was had in this common course, tried sundry years and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato’s and other ancients applauded by some of later times; that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God.
For this community it was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For the young men, that were most able and fit for labour and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter than the other could; this was thought injustice.
The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labours, victuals, clothes, etc., with the meaner and younger sort, thought it indignity and disrespect unto them. And for men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands brook it.”
“The Pilgrims failed because their communal system was fundamentally and irreconcilably contrary to human nature which is unchanging throughout the millennia.”
The communal system failed because it rewarded the less productive as much as the more productive. It failed because members of the community found that they could do less and still get the same benefit – a situation since labeled the “free-rider” problem. All of these problems arose in a highly religious community in which sloth was considered sinful. Consider how much more communism would fail in a larger, diversified and slothful society.
The Pilgrims failed because their communal system was irreconcilably contrary to human nature which is unchanging. By returning to a system that based a person’s benefits directly on his production, the Pilgrims ensured the survival of their colony. Governor Bradford, however, ultimately attributes the failure of the “common cause” to something much deeper:
“Upon the point all being to have alike and to do alike, they thought themselves in the like condition, and one as good as another; and so, if it did not cut off those relations that God hath set amongst men, yet it did at least much diminish and take off the mutual respects that should be preserved amongst them. And it would have been worse if they had been men of another condition. Let none object this is men’s corruption, and nothing to the course itself. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them.”
“Families, the foundational social unit, were undermined. Without that foundation, no society can hope to survive.”
Governor Bradford is saying that communism failed because of human nature. The utopia Marx and Lenin dreamed of could work only if it were filled with perfect people – and no such people exist. Furthermore, Bradford believed the communal system undermined the relations God instituted among men – marriage and family. With husbands growing food for other people’s children, wives washing other men’s clothes and children doing chores for other families, the basic foundational social unit of society was undermined. Without that foundational unit no society can hope to survive.
The story of the Pilgrims is identical to the story of all attempted Utopian, socialist and communist societies throughout recorded history; none ever has succeeded and they all failed for the same reason: they are an affront to unchanging human nature. The point is that self interest – greed if you must – comports with human nature and always has worked throughout the millennia. It worked for the Pilgrims. Forced brotherhood and all Utopian schemes ever tried in the history of our planet failed because they are contrary to human nature. It failed the Pilgrims.
Did you know this story? Do your children know this story? If they attend government schools, they never will hear this story unless you tell them.
“Only liberty brings about the veritable cornucopia we celebrate at Thanksgiving in the United States of America.”
Edmund Burke famously quipped, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” The Pilgrims’ experience offers enduring truths which include: (1) private ownership of property always is superior to communal or state ownership; (2) Utopian schemes, particularly including socialism, are contrary to human nature and are doomed to fail; (3) without the family as its foundation society will wither and founder; (4) people respond to incentives; (5) capitalism and property rights bring about unbounded prosperity whereas socialism results in equal misery; and (6) although government is necessary for limited purposes (mainly to secure liberties), only liberty brings about the cornucopia that we celebrate at Thanksgiving in the United States of America.
Happy Thanksgiving from the More Liberty – Less Government Foundation!
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