As America embarks on a bold leeward lurch toward centralized power and massive redistribution of wealth in addressing its economic problems, it might be time to take a step back and learn a lesson from our forebears, the Pilgrims.

But first we must familiarize ourselves with the historical truth of their experience – something that has been in short supply in the media and our schools.

Kids often learn today that the Mayflower gang were pretty incompetent – bad farmers, bad fishermen, bad hunters. They came to the New World unprepared for the hardships they would face in the wilderness.

They were rescued by the friendly native Americans who taught them the survival skills they would need, so the story goes. The first harvest festival was a time of rejoicing and giving thanks to their saviors – the Indians who befriended them and guided them to a better way of life.

That picture is totally wrong.

Here’s the real story.

Before leaving Europe the Pilgrims entered into a contract, dated July 1, 1620, that would have all profits of their “trade, traffic, trucking, working, fishing, or any other means of any person or persons, remain in the common stock until division.”

In other words, the settlement at Plymouth Bay was the first New World experiment in communism – long before Karl Marx supposedly invented it.

To say that social experiment was a total failure would be an understatement. The first winter spelled death and disease and hunger for the colony because the Pilgrims had arrived too late in the season to plant crops and build adequate shelters. Half of them died. The following spring, however, they planted and hunted and fished to get by – just barely. They did invite some of the friendly Indians to join them in their first “Thanksgiving” celebration. But they were not thanking the Indians. They were thanking God for pulling them through.

Statism’s illogic exposed for all to see in F.A. Hayek’s “The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism”

As William Bradford wrote in his journal: “And thus they found the Lord to be with them in all their ways, and to bless their outgoings and incomings, for which let His holy name have the praise forever, to all posterity.”

Nevertheless, Bradford remained troubled by the colony’s inability to prosper. He found the answer by studying the Bible and revisiting the notion of private property and incentivized hard work.

He wrote about it in 1623: “So they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. At length, after much debate of things, the Governor (with the advice of the chiefest amongst them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves. … This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn, which before would allege weakness and inability, whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression. The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years and that amongst Godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato’s and other ancients applauded by some of later times, that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing, as if they were wiser than God. For this community was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For the young men, that were most able and fit for labour and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense. 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. … And for men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands brook it. Upon the point all being to have alike, and all to do alike, they thought themselves in the like condition, and one as good as another; and so, if it did not cut off those relations that God hath set amongst men, yet it did at least diminish and take off the mutual respects that should be preserved amongst them.”

In other words, the introduction of the idea of private property saved the Pilgrims and made their experiment successful.

To coin a phrase, that’s how “the Pilgrims progressed.”

They went back to their Bibles and saw that in practicing utopian communism, they were attempting to be “wiser than God.” Once they abandoned that deadly economic system, they flourished.

Do you think we are wise enough to learn a lesson from the Pilgrims’ experience today? Or are we doomed to repeat the failures and experience the miseries of socialism, again, for ourselves?

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.