How did the Pilgrims’ rejection of communism result in the first Thanksgiving?
Simple – that there would have been no Thanksgiving if they hadn’t!
The Plymouth Plantation was originally a “company” colony with bylaws drawn up by “adventurers” who loaned the Pilgrims money for their trip, hoping to be paid back.
The company bylaws, written in July of 1620, set up a communal system for the first seven years, in which all capital and profits remained “in ye common stock” with everyone having an equal share:
“The adventurers & planters doe agree, that every person that goeth being aged 16. years & upward, be rated at 10li., and ten pounds to be accounted a single share. …
“The persons transported & ye adventurers shall continue their joynt stock & partnership togeather, ye space of 7 years … during which time, all profits & benifits that are gott by trade, traffick, trucking, working, fishing, or any other means of any person or persons, remaine still in ye comone stock untill ye division. …
“That all such persons as are of this collonie, are to have their meate, drink, apparell, and all provissions out of ye comon stock & goods of ye said collonie.
The bylaws also stated, “That at ye end of ye 7 years, ye capitall & profits, viz. the houses, lands, goods and chatels, be equally devided betwixte ye adventurers, and planters.”
Did this plan work?
Pilgrim Gov. William Bradford described in “Of Plymouth Plantation” that sharing “all profits & benefits” in ye common stock, regardless of how hard each individual worked, failed:
“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 it 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 …”
William Bradford continued:
“The strong man or the resourceful man had no more share of food, clothes, etc., than the weak man who was not able to do a quarter the other could. This was thought injustice.
“The aged and graver men, who were ranked and equalized in labor, food, clothes, etc., with the humbler and younger ones, thought it some indignity and disrespect to them …”
What did the Pilgrim women think about this? William Bradford wrote:
“As for men’s wives who were obliged to do service for other men, such as cooking, washing their clothes, etc., they considered it a kind of slavery, and many husbands would not brook it …”
Bradford explained this “communistic plan” of redistributing wealth failed, and even bred social chaos:
“If all were to share alike, and all were to do alike, then all were on an equality throughout, and one was as good as another; and so, if it did not actually abolish those very relations which God himself has set among men, it did at least greatly diminish the mutual respect that is so important should be preserved amongst them.
“Let none argue that this is due to human failing, rather than to this communistic plan of life in itself …”
Bradford described how the Pilgrims opted for a plan of individual capitalism:
“I answer, seeing that all men have this failing in them, that God in His wisdom saw that another plan of life was fitter for them. …
“So they began to consider how to raise more corn, and obtain a better crop than they had done, so that they might not continue to endure the misery of want. …
“At length after much debate, the Governor, with the advice of the chief among them, allowed each man to plant corn for his own household. … So every family was assigned a parcel of land. …
“This was very successful. 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, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better satisfaction.”
And how did the Pilgrim women like this plan of capitalism? William Bradford wrote:
“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.”
This Thanksgiving, as we sit around the table of plenty, we can add to the list of what to thank God for that our Pilgrims ancestors did not embrace President Obama’s plan of redistributing the wealth, but rather opted for individual capitalism. As a result, they enjoyed an abundant harvest.