Editor’s note: Every Thanksgiving eve since 1994, Rush Limbaugh offers the real history behind the holiday, based on a chapter in his runaway bestselling book, “See, I Told You So,” written with the assistance of WND’s future founder Joseph Farah. Yesterday was no exception. Here are some excerpts from his take on the contribution of the Pilgrims to the future of America.
“The True Story of Thanksgiving,” written about in Chapter 6 of “See, I Told You So,” which is book two. It’s the chapter titled “Dead White Guys, or What the History Books Never Tell You.” And, by the way, this chapter and this story served as the foundation for the first book in the Rush Revere series, which was Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims, where, in addition to “The True Story of Thanksgiving,” we have the true story of the Pilgrims, who they were, where they were.
The story of the Pilgrims begins in the early part of the 17th 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 [religious] beliefs in 1600s England.
A group of separatists first fled to Holland and established a community. After 11 years, about 40 of them agreed to make a perilous journey to the New World, where they would certainly face hardships, but, at least the promise was, they “could live and worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences.” It’s a powerful belief, the belief in freedom of religion to engage in this kind of activity, to be able to cross an ocean to a place where you had no idea what to expect.
On Aug. 1, 1620, the Mayflower set sail. It carried a total of 102 passengers, including 40 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. They were people with incredible faith. 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.
During the first winter, half the Pilgrims – including Bradford’s own wife – died of either starvation, sickness or exposure. When spring finally came, Indians, the Native Americans, indeed, “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.”
That’s where the traditional story of Thanksgiving ends: The Indians helped ’em and they learned how to plant corn, had they had a big feast, and that’s what we celebrate today. No! Thanksgiving is actually explained in [way too many] textbooks as a holiday for which the Pilgrims gave thanks to the Indians for saving their lives, rather than what it was. Thanksgiving was “a devout expression of gratitude” to God. If you doubt that, go look at George Washington’s first Thanksgiving Proclamation, when Thanksgiving became a national holiday because of George Washington.
You cannot escape the fact that it was a national holiday rooted in thanking God for America, for the blessed nature of our country, and this is exactly what the Pilgrims did. That’s what they were thankful for. Here is the part that has been omitted from the traditional textbooks, and it was omitted when I was in school.
The Pilgrims had merchant sponsors. They didn’t have the money to make this trip themselves. There were sponsors, merchants in Holland and London that paid for it. They had to be repaid. So, the contract that they had called for everything they produced to go into a common store, and each member of the community was entitled to one common share. “All of the land they cleared and the houses they built belonged to the community as well. It didn’t belong to any individuals, and everything they produced was to be distributed equally. Everyone would get the same, and everybody would be the same.” 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. 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 after settlement. He decided to take bold action. Bradford assigned a plot of land to each family to work and manage.
Whatever they produced was theirs to do whatever they wanted – sell it, keep it, use it, but it was theirs. Well, you know what happened. This was, in effect, the unleashing of the power of competition and the marketplace. The Pilgrims had discovered and experimented with what could only be described as socialism, and it failed miserably.
It didn’t work! Drastic action taken by William Bradford got rid of it. 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 no matter what you produced, you got the same as anybody else.
If you didn’t produce anything, you still got the same amount that everybody else got.
What Bradford wrote about this social experiment should be in every schoolchild’s history lesson: “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.”
“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,” he continued. “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 any recompense…”
That’s from his own journal. 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. They let every family have its own plot of land to work and they were permitted to market the products, the crops that they grew.
Bradford wrote, “This had very good success. For it made all hands industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been.”
As a result, the Pilgrims found they had more food than they could eat themselves. Now, this is where it gets really good, folks. They set up trading posts and exchanged goods with the Indians.
In other words, there was capitalism going on. There was buying and selling going on. There were profits. A group of people arrives on a boat committed to being equal and the same. It fails. They end up turning out industrious activity, creating that by virtue of competition and being able to keep what you produced. They produced more than they needed. They ended up setting up trading posts. They exchanged goods with the Indians, and the profits finally allowed them to pay off the debts to the sponsors, the merchants in London who had sponsored them.
Thus the success and prosperity of the Plymouth settlement attracted more Europeans and began what came to be known as the “Great Puritan Migration.” In other words, the Pilgrims had such overwhelming success at growing their community, word spread all the way back to England, and it began this humongous migration of people.
Remember, the Pilgrims preceded the founding of the country by hundreds of years. They really were the ones that got it started and showed how it could be done. And it was – I don’t want to use the word “rich.” It was so plentiful, this was what they were thankful for. They thanked God for the guidance found in the Bible for restructuring their community, and shared their bounty with the Indians, who did teach them how to do things they didn’t know how to do, basically be farmers.
And that’s “The True Story of Thanksgiving.”