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Happy Capitalist Thanksgiving!

November 24, 2010

In the great debate of the past century between capitalism and communism, few remember that America was founded by communal Christians–who almost failed.

In the Plymouth Colony, the Puritans–a devout Protestant sect forced to leave England to seek religious freedom–at first practiced under the leadership of Governor William Bradford. When the colony began in 1621, all the goods and products were held in a “common stock.” All were to contribute equally and share equally in the community’s bounty—or lack thereof. Bradford records the result: Young men objected to working for the benefit of other men’s wives and children. The strong objected that they received the same amount of food and clothing as the weak. The older men objected to laboring the same amount as the young. The women objected to performing household chores for men other than their husbands, deeming it “a kind of slavery.”

You can read more of the story at the Heritage Foundation, or by searching the internet with the keywords “communism” and “Plymouth Colony.”

When Bradford changed the system to one of private ownership of property, the new system of private property proved prosperous and enlivening. Men, women, and children no longer thought labor to be tyrannical and oppressive, and instead became industrious stewards of their individual plots of land, resulting in bountiful harvests.

Bradford concluded that communism was incompatible with human nature.

The story of Jamestown from 1607-11 was the same. (To find it, substitute “Jamestown” in the search engine.) Under collectivism, less than half of every shipload of settlers survived the first 12 months at Jamestown. Most of the work was done by only one-fifth of the men, to whom the socialist system gave the same rations as to the others. During the winter of 1609–10, called “The Starving Time,” the population fell from 500 to 60.

Again, private land was given to the settlers with almost miraculous effect. The real irony here? US News and World Report wrote in 2007,

It was on one of those 3-acre plots that John Rolfe tinkered with tobacco and transformed Jamestown.

With private ownership of his property, Rolfe could produce not only enough food for himself and his family but had the incentive to improve his produce and better himself.

Four hundred years ago the first settlers knew the value of private property and free markets. What is wrong with the socialist politicians in Washington today? Do they not know this? Were they not taught this in school? I remember a film in grade school that told the story of Jamestown and their failed experiment with communism. The lesson has stayed with me my entire life, reinforced by all my experiences since.

What happened to the lost colony at Roanoke? Care to hazard a guess?

This Thanksgiving and for every year after, as you enjoy the fruits of your labor and remember the Pilgrims who first gave thanks for their bounty, tell your family and guests the rest of the story.

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