We pause today as a nation to give thanks to the Almighty for the blessings of liberty on our shores.
But it is important to remember that our American experience did not actually begin with liberty. Rather, our history began with an early — though equally destructive — form of socialism.
When those early settlers landed on Plymouth Rock, they weren’t city slickers ill prepared for wilderness life; nor were they misguided about the challenges facing them in the New World. Sadly, the problems the pilgrims faced, and overcame, were of their very own making through a misguided ideology.
William Bradford, governor of Plymouth Colony, explained what happened in his “History of the Plymouth Settlement.” Before even arriving on American soil they planted the seeds of their misery. The colonists imposed on themselves what Bradford called “communal service.” Today, we would recognize it as socialism.
Everything — the land, the work, the crops, everything — was held communally. Everyone was expected to work hard yet receive only what they truly needed. As a result, as Bradford wrote, many would simply “allege weakness and inability.”
Bradford wrote “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.”
At the same time, “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.”
Bradford would note: “Community of property was found to breed much confusion and discontent.” No one had an incentive to work, so no one produced, and everyone was miserable.
This was a group of people who shared common beliefs, cared for each other, and had willingly accepted the colony’s arrangements. It’s not that they failed at socialism, it’s that socialism fails. Socialism fails in practice whenever it is tried; sometimes it limps along, but ultimately the results are misery and doom.
(In the 20th Century, Winston Churchill would say “the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”)
After three years, the colony abandoned its “communal” life lest they die-off completely. Bradford wrote that colony leaders divided the land among the families and “allowed each man to plant corn for his own household, and to trust to themselves for that.”
The result? According to Bradford, “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.”
Where socialism had brought general misery, private property rights and a free market produced prosperity.
The earliest days of our American experience demonstrated what world history has shown repeatedly: socialism fails, and fails miserably.
Let us never forget that liberty is in the 21st Century, as it was in the 17th, a necessary and integral ingredient for our general prosperity.
For the blessings of liberty, let us give thanks!