Thanksgiving and Capitalism

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As you sat down for your Thanksgiving feast, did you take time to reflect on the origin of this American holiday?

Separatist Congregationalists fleeing religious persecution by King James of England. travelled to the New World in 1620. Investors provided loans to finance the trip.

The bylaws of the Plymouth plantation project (the Mayflower Compact) set up a communal system of ownership of capital and profits generated by the Pilgrims.

The colonists agreed that “…all profits and benefits that are got by trade, working, fishing, or any other means” were to be deposited into a common storehouse and that “all such persons as are of this colony, are to have their meat, drink, apparel, and all provisions out of the common stock.”

After the Pilgrim’s arrival in Massachusetts, they suffered through a harsh winter in 1620-1621. Tragically, about half of the Pilgrims died during the winter.

In the spring, the survivors planted crops. At the harvest in fall 1621, the Pilgrims invited some of the Indians they had befriended to a feast we now think of as the first Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims gave thanks to God (not to the Indians as some liberals claim today).

Though the Pilgrims were surviving, they were not thriving due to the socialist system created by the colony’s bylaws.

Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford later wrote, “The failure of that experiment of communal service, which was tried for several years, and by good and honest men,
 proves the emptiness of the theory of Plato and other ancients, applauded by some of later times, that the taking away of private property, and the possession of it in community, by a commonwealth, would make a state happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God…for in this instance, community of property was found to breed much confusion and discontent; and retard much employment which would have been to the general benefit…for the young men who were most able and fit for service objected to being forced to spend their time and strength in working for other men’s wives and children, without any recompense.”

Bradford criticized this “communistic plan of life,” and declared it a failure.

In 1622, the Pilgrims’ harvest was again poor. So they put the communistic system on the ash heap of Pilgrim history, and for the next planting season in 1623, every family was given their own land. Each family could grow crops and keep all of them or trade their excess. Each family had to feed itself.

Governor Bradford wrote of the dramatic improvements this entrepreneurship brought the Pilgrims: “It made all hands very industrious, so that much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could devise…the women now went willing into the field, and took their little ones with them to plant corn, while before they would allege weakness and inability, and to have compelled them would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.”

More than 200 years before Karl Marx theorized the misery we now call socialism, the Pilgrims experimented with and then rejected socialism. Then they replaced it with entrepreneurial capitalism to avoid starving to death.

Rejecting socialism in favor of American ingenuity worked the first time it was tried by the Pilgrims nearly 400 years ago. It’s been working well ever since.

When Americans forget this lesson that the Pilgrims taught us, our country suffers. When we enjoy our Thanksgiving leftovers, we can thank God for this blessing and the Pilgrims for the wisdom for how to create the affluence to pay for it.



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