In the middle of December 1620 the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, leaving behind the sinfulness of the “old world” to make a “new Jerusalem” in America. Three years later, in November 1623, they had a great feast thanking God for getting them through an earlier famine, and now for a bountiful crop.
What had created the earlier famine and then the bountiful crops?
At first, they decided to turn their back on all the institutions of the England that had been their home. This included the institution of private property, which they declared to be the basis of greed, averse, and selfishness. Instead, they were determined to live the “Platonic ideal” of collectivism, in which all work would be done in common, with the rewards of their collective efforts evenly divided among the colonists. Farming was done in common, as well as housekeeping and child raising. This was supposed to lead to prosperity and brotherly love...
But their experiment in collectivism did not lead to prosperity or brotherly love. Rather, it created poverty and envy and slothfulness among most of the members of this little society...
For two years the harvest time failed to bring forth enough to feed the people. Indeed, many starved and many died of famine. Faced with this disaster, the elders of the colony gathered, Governor Bradford tells us, and decided that another year, and they would surely all die and disappear in the wilderness.
Instead, they decided to divide the property and fields of the colony, and gave each family a piece as their own. Whatever they did not use for their own consumption, they had the right to trade away to their neighbors for something they desired instead.
Now, instead of sloth, envy, resentment, and anger among the colonists, there was a great turnaround in their activities. Industry, effort, and joy were now seen in practically all that the men, women and children did.
So this today, when we all sit down with our families and friends to enjoy the turkey and the trimmings, let us not forget that we are celebrating the establishment and triumph of capitalism and the spirit of enterprise in America.
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