Friends, it is a very special day in our nation’s history. This is a time to reflect on how blessed we are, as individuals, and as a nation. For many of us, this day will be filled with good food, football, and family traditions. However, as I said before, this is a time for reflection. Despite the obvious liberties and prosperities that have been afforded to us through our free-market economy, there has been a rapidly growing movement to make the United States a socialist state. As a result, I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss what the first Thanksgiving can teach us about socialism.
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When I was in high school, I was required to read the journal of William Bradford. Bradford was the governor of the Plymouth colony, and much of what we know about the pilgrims came from his diary. My assignment was to compare what was written in our current textbooks to Bradford’s journal. What I discovered was that there were some glaring discrepancies between what was being taught in our modern history books and what was written in Bradford’s manuscript.
The initial Plymouth Plantation Charter from the 1620s called for all farmland to be worked communally. What was known as “collective property ownership,” dictated that the harvest be shared equally. Interestingly enough, this idea stemmed from a misinterpretation of Malachi 3:10. The scripture states,
‘”Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this.’ Says the LORD of hosts, ‘If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it.”‘
As a result, the entire community worked for everybody else, rather than themselves, for two years. But, in 1621 and 1622, the harvest was short, leading to famine and death. This socialistic approach ended up killing about half of the settlers and caused massive unrest amongst the younger, able-bodied men. Growing hostilities and rampant theft eventually led to men being unwilling to work to feed someone else’s family, women being unwilling to cook food to feed another’s husband, unplanted fields, and starvation.
As it became clear that the initial design of the Plymouth Plantation Charter was flawed, William Bradford wrote as much in his journal. The original idea was that “the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing.” However, Bradford learned that this thinking was flawed, saying, “The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice.”
The younger, stronger men worked long hours in the fields. As a result, they burned more calories and ruined their clothes. But they still received the same as those who were unfit to work. This was seen as a great injustice to them. On the other hand, those who were older and weren’t able to work, felt undignified by the distribution of goods. Bradford speaks of this, saying, “The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labors and victuals, clothes, etc., with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them.”
A similar indignity was cast upon the women of the colony. For “wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc.,” was thought to be “a kind of slavery.” This is harsh wording, but it is accurate. These weren’t the musings of selfish people. In fact, “they thought themselves in the like condition, and one as good as another.” This means they believed in justice and equality. But that’s not what they found in this system. So, what is it that Thanksgiving can teach us about socialism? Bradford and the Plymouth colonists attempted socialism. What they found was famine, death, injustice, and indignity.
Although Bradford eventually learned from experience, Plymouth could have avoided some trouble by looking to Jamestown. In 1607, Jamestown operated under the same socialist practices as the Plymouth Plantation. As a result, a little less than half of each shipload of settlers that arrived survived their first 12 months. Unfortunately, many more had to lose their lives before the colonists realized that socialism was not the way.
In 1623, Bradford abolished socialism. He gave each household a parcel of land, allowing them to cultivate their own crops and trade as they saw fit. What was the result? Well, in 1623 and 1624, the colony experienced bountiful harvests. This is what most people attributed to the Thanksgiving tradition, the large harvest and feeling of unity for families in the community. Not only did they have enough for their own community, but they were also able to export corn to other colonies. As a result, Bradford found was that the free market system “made all hands very industrious.”
Friends, 2020 has been a rough year. But the reality is we still have so much to be thankful for. I am personally thankful for each one of you who takes the time to read my blog or listen to our podcast. Likewise, I’m thankful for all of the wonderful opportunities and blessings that living in a free-market society has granted us. I know life is hard. Life can be frustrating. But life is good, folks! From all of us at Financially Simple, have a happy Thanksgiving! Let’s go out and make it a great day!
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