During the Thanksgiving holiday, many of us reach way back in our memory banks to recall those old grade school lessons about the Pilgrims. Many of us were taught that the Pilgrims prospered once they learned North American horticulture, but there’s more to the story. For some years, the Pilgrims continued to suffer from famine. It turns out it was of their own making.
The Pilgrims practiced communism. They shared and shared alike, farming together on land owned by the community. They starved and starved alike, too.
Casting about for a solution, William Bradford, Plymouth’s long-time Governor eventually allowed each man to plant corn for his own household. This change resulted in a productivity boom. In his personal diary Bradford wrote: “The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to plant corn, while before they would allege weakness and inability.”
Bradford also pointed out, “the failure of the experiment of communal service proves the emptiness of the theory that the taking away of private property, and the possession of it in community, by a commonwealth, would make a state happy and flourishing.” A year later, he recorded that by planting corn on their own account they managed, with a great deal of patience, to overcome famine.
We can be thankful today that our country still considers property rights and individual responsibility cornerstones of the freedom and way of life that is unique in the world to America. Too many countries around the world are mired in poverty and famine because they haven’t learned this fundamental truth.
When I gather around the Thanksgiving table with my family, I will give thanks for those early lessons learned by our Pilgrim forefathers.
Byron Schlomach, Ph.D. is director of the Goldwater Institute Center for Economic Prosperity.