For any of you who haven’t heard it, Rush reads this the day before Thanksgiving every year.
The story of the Pilgrims begins in the early part of the seventeenth century. The Church of England under King James I was persecuting anyone and everyone who did not recognize its absolute civil and spiritual 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 eleven years, about forty 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, and a talking horse. Well, I’m adding that in, a talking horse. It carried a total of 102 passengers including forty Pilgrims led by William Bradford. On the journey, Bradford set up an agreement, a contract, 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 this was no pleasure cruise, friends. 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. They stayed and lived on the Mayflower, some of them, for quite a while. During the first winter, half the Pilgrims — including Bradford’s own wife — died of starvation, sickness or exposure. When spring finally came, it’s true, Indians taught the settlers how to plant corn, fish for cod, and skin beavers for coats.
Life improved for the Pilgrims, but they did not yet prosper. This is important to understand because this is where modern American history lessons often end in the teaching of Thanksgiving. Pilgrims poor, desolate, starving, homeless, new place, not knowing anything, Indians came along and saved them. That is where most kids’ story of Thanksgiving stops. But it really hadn’t even yet begun. Thanksgiving is actually explained in some textbooks as a holiday for which the Pilgrims gave thanks to the Indians for saving their lives, rather than as a devout expression of gratitude grounded in the tradition of both the Old and New Testaments, the Bible.
Here is the part that has been omitted: The original contract the Pilgrims had 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, every pilgrim, was entitled to one common share. All of the land they cleared and the houses they built belonged to the community as well. They were going to distribute everything they owned and everything they built equally. All of the land they cleared and the houses they built belonged to the community as well. Nobody owned anything. They just had a share in it. It was a commune, folks. It was the forerunner to the communes we saw in the ’60s and ’70s out in California — and it was complete with organic vegetables, by the way. There’s no question they were organic vegetables in the fertilizer back then. Monsanto didn’t exist. There was no Archer Daniels Midland corrupting and polluting our food. There was no Van de Kamps or Heinz or any of that. There was no John Kerry. There was no Teresa Heinz Kerry. It was just the Pilgrims and the land.
William 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. He decided to take bold action. Bradford assigned a plot of land to each family to work and manage, and it was theirs. He assigned it, but they owned it, thus turning loose the power of the marketplace. That’s right. Long before Karl Marx was even born, the Pilgrims had discovered and experimented with what could only be described as socialism. And what happened? It didn’t work! They nearly starved!
It never has worked! Do you know why 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 had an equal share. Unless they could utilize the power of personal motivation they were not going to be able to change anything. But while most of the rest of the world has been experimenting with socialism for well over a hundred years — trying to refine it, perfect it, and re-invent it, spend more money on it, the Pilgrims decided early on to scrap it permanently.
What Bradford wrote about this social experiment should be in every schoolchild’s history lesson. If it were, we might prevent much needless suffering in the future, such as that we’re enduring now, trying the same thing over and over. This is Bradford: “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,” Bradford wrote. “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,” meaning, nobody worked any harder than they had to because they didn’t get to keep anything that they made. It all went into a common store. There was a bunch of laziness that set in, and some people didn’t do anything. They got an equal share of everything anyway, so why work? It’s human nature.
Bradford wrote, “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 being paid for it, meaning they finally figured out: Why are we doing this? The ones who were working, the ones who were creative and industrious, while others were sitting around, asked: Why should we do this? It was “thought injustice.” Why should you work for other people when you can’t work for yourself? That’s what he was saying. The Pilgrims found that people could not be expected to do their best work without incentive. So what did Bradford’s community try next? They unharnessed the power of good old free enterprise by invoking the undergirding capitalistic principle of private property.
Bradford again: “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.” It’s trickle down here, folks. The Pilgrims discovered it. It existed well before the 1980s. Now, this is where it gets really good, folks, if you’re laboring under the misconception that I was, as I was taught in school. So they set up trading posts and exchanged goods with the Indians. The Indians had saved their lives earlier, but now they had all of this bounty that their foray into capitalism had produced. The profits allowed them to pay off their debts to the merchants in London.
And the success and prosperity of the Plymouth settlement attracted more Europeans and began what came to be known as the Great Puritan Migration. The word of prosperity spread back across the Atlantic Ocean. That’s how big it was. But this story stops when the Indians taught the newly arrived suffering-in-socialism Pilgrims how to plant corn and fish for cod. That’s where the original Thanksgiving story stops, and the story basically doesn’t even begin there.
The real story of Thanksgiving is William Bradford giving thanks to God for the guidance and the inspiration to set up a thriving colony. The bounty was shared with the Indians. There was a thanks to the Indians. They had so much, they had the Indians over. They did sit down, and they did have free-range turkey and organic vegetables. But it was not the Indians that save the Pilgrims, and it was not the Indians who saved the day. It was capitalism and Scripture which saved the day, as acknowledged by George Washington in his first Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1789.