The story of the Pilgrims begins in the early part of the 17th century…
The Church of England under King James I was persecuting everyone who did not recognize its total authority. Those who challenged ecclesiastical authority and those who believed strongly in freedom of worship were hunted down, imprisoned, and sometimes executed for their beliefs.
A group of separatists first fled to Holland and established a community. After 11 years, about 40 of them agreed to make a perilous journey to the New World, where they would certainly face hardships, but could live and worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences.
On August 1, 1620, the Mayflower set sail. It carried a total of 102 passengers, including 40Pilgrims led by William Bradford. On the journey, Bradford set up an agreement that established just and equal laws for all members of the new community, irrespective of their religious beliefs.
Where did the revolutionary ideas expressed in the Mayflower Compact come from? From the Bible. The Pilgrims were a people completely steeped in the lessons of the Old and New Testaments. They looked to the ancient Israelites for their example. And, because of the biblical precedents set forth in Scripture, they never doubted that their experiment would work.
But they knew this was no pleasure cruise. The journey to the New World was a long and arduous one. And when the Pilgrims landed in New England in November, they found — according to Bradford’s detailed journal — a cold, barren, desolate wilderness. There were no friends to greet them, he wrote. There were no houses to shelter them. There were no inns where they could refresh themselves. And the sacrifice they had made for freedom was just beginning.
During the first winter, half the Pilgrims — including Bradford’s own wife — died of starvation, sickness or exposure. When spring finally came, Indians taught the settlers how to plant corn, fish for cod and skin beavers for coats.
Life improved for the Pilgrims, but they were far from prosperous. This is where the story of Thanksgiving often ends… it is commonly explained as a holiday for which the Pilgrims gave thanks to the Indians for saving their lives. That’s not what it was.
Here is the part of the story that has been omitted…
The original agreement the Pilgrims entered into with their merchant-sponsors in London called for everything they produced to go into a common store, and each member of the community was entitled to one common share. It was a commune. All of the land they cleared and the houses they built belonged to the community as a whole, not to the individuals who built them.
Bradford, who had become the new governor of the colony, recognized that this form of collectivism was as costly and destructive to the Pilgrims as that first harsh winter, which had taken so many lives, so he decided to take bold action.
Bradford assigned a plot of land to each family to work and manage. They could do with it whatever they wanted. He essentially turned loose the free market on them.
Long before Karl Marx was even born, the Pilgrims had discovered and experimented with what could only be described as socialism. And they found that it didn’t work.
What Bradford and his community found was that the most creative and industrious people had no incentive to work any harder than anyone else, because everybody ended up with the same thing at the end of the day.
But while most of the rest of the world had been experimenting with socialism for well over a hundred years — trying to refine it, perfect it, and re-invent it — the Pilgrims decided to scrap it permanently.
What Bradford wrote about this social experiment should be in known to everyone…
“The experience that we had in this common course and condition, Bradford wrote, the experience that we had in this common course and condition tried sundry years… that by taking away property, and bringing community into a common wealth, would make them happy and flourishing — as if they were wiser than God.
… For this community [so far as it was] was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For young men that were most able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense.”
What he was saying was that they found that people would not do their best work without any incentive. So what did they try next? Free enterprise. Every family was assigned its own plot of land to work and permitted to market its own crops and products. And what was the result? ‘This had very good success,’ wrote Bradford, for it made all hands industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been.
The Pilgrims had miraculous results. In no time they found they had more food than they could eat themselves. They set up trading posts. They exchanged goods with the Indians. The profits allowed them to pay off the people that sponsored their trip in London. The success and the prosperity of the Plymouth settlement attracted more Europeans, and began what became known as the great Puritan migration.
And they shared their bounty with the Indians… in fact, they sold some of it to them.
The true story of Thanksgiving is about success. With all the great expectations and high hopes, socialism failed. Self-reliance, rugged individualism, free enterprise, freedom and independence resulted in prosperity that the Pilgrims never even dreamed of.
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