By Dr. Harold Pease
It is said that the casualties of this presidential election in order were the toppling of the Bush dynasty, the Clinton dynasty, and the nullification of the Obama legacy. At the top, however, is a rejection of socialism. No two presidential candidates have been more socialistic than Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, and half of America voted for socialism. Keeping Obamacare and instituting “free college” would have made it very difficult to argue that we had not become a socialist country. This is despite the harsh lessons of our socialist beginnings.
This Thanksgiving Day we think of the Pilgrims enjoying abundant food, but this was not their real reality. Few will mention the starving times the first year in 1620 when half died of starvation. Harvests were not bountiful in that year and the next two. Plymouth was beset by laziness and thievery. William Bradford, the governor of the colony, in his History of Plymouth Plantation reported that “much was stolen both by night and day” to alleviate the prevailing condition of hunger. The mythical “feast” of the first Thanksgiving did fill their bellies briefly, he reported, and they were grateful, but abundance was anything but common. Why did this happen? Because they had fallen victim to the socialistic philosophy of “share the wealth.” This dis-incentivized the productive base of society.
Then suddenly, as though night changed to day, the crop of 1623 was bounteous, and those thereafter as well, and it had nothing to do with the weather. Bradford wrote, “Instead of famine now God gave them plenty and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God.” He concluded later, “any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day.”
One variable alone made the difference and ended the three-year famine. They abandoned the notion of government (or corporation) owning the means of production and distribution in favor of the individual having property and being responsible to take care of himself. Before, no one benefited by working because he received the same compensation as those who did not. After the change everyone kept the benefits of his labor. Those who chose not to work basically chose also to be poor and the government (corporation) no longer confiscated from those who produced to give to those who did not. No government food stamps here.
Ironically all this could have been avoided had Plymouth consulted history and communicated with their neighboring colony, some distance south of them, who had previously been down the same trail. Jamestown too was first a socialist society where each produced according to his ability and received according to his need, which, of course, affected supply. One cannot divide what does not exist. Our textbooks tell us that only one of twelve survived the first two years for precisely the same reason, starvation. The problem, as noted by Tom Bethel in his work The Noblest Triumph: Property and Prosperity through the Ages, was identified by an unnamed participant as “want of providence, industrie and government, and not the barenness and defect of the Countrie.”
Captain John Smith is credited with having saved the floundering colony by his “no workie, no eatie” government program (once again, the Virginia Company was the government) and was hated for it. Addicted to the promise of getting something for nothing, even if it is always less than promised, the receiving part of the population will always oppose their not getting their “fair share.” Sound familiar? Captain Smith was eventually carted off to England in chains as fast as the parasitic population could do so. Once again, why? Philip A. Bruce in his Economic History of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century, p. 121 called it agricultural socialism. “The settlers did not have even a modified interest in the soil…. Everything produced by them went into the store, in which they had no proprietorship.” When settlers finally were allowed to own their own property, and keep what they produced, things changed over night.
Colony Secretary Ralph Hamor wrote of incoming prosperity, beginning in 1614, after ownership of land was allowed. “When our people were fed out of the common store, and labored jointly together, glad was he [who] could slip from his labor, or slumber over his tasks he cared not how, nay, the most honest among them would hardly take so much true pains in a week, as now for themselves they will do in a day, neither cared they for the increase, presuming that however the harvest prospered, the general store must maintain them, so that we reaped not so much corn from the labors of thirty as now three or four do provide for themselves.”
This Thanksgiving let us be grateful for the prosperity that we have—even the poorest among us. Jamestown and Plymouth set us upon a course that recognized that prosperity requires incentive to flourish and that the profit motive stimulates industry. We are so grateful that, having recognized the poison of “the share the wealth” philosophy, they purged it from their midst and proceeded to make America the most prosperous country on earth.
We remain mostly a socialist country but the plunge deeper has been avoided for now and we have a chance to set a new course distancing ourselves more fully from it, as did they. Will we be so smart? Let us share this message at the table as we feast upon turkey and pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving Day so that our children will know how prosperity is really produced.
Dr. Harold Pease is a syndicated columnist and an expert on the United States Constitution. He has dedicated his career to studying the writings of the Founding Fathers and applying that knowledge to current events. He has taught history and political science from this perspective for over 30 years at Taft College. To read more of his weekly articles, please visit www.LibertyUnderFire.org.