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Plymouth, Jamestown placed us on the road to prosperity

Plymouth, Jamestown placed us on the road to prosperity

Posted: Wednesday, November 21, 2012 7:00 pm

Special to the Press
This Thanksgiving Day, we think of the Pilgrims, abundant foods and giving thanks. Few remember the starving times when the first year after landing about half died, largely of famine.  Harvests were not bountiful in 1620, 1621 and 1622.  Plymouth was beset by laziness and thievery.  William Bradford, the governor of the colony, in his “History of Plymouth Plantation” reported that “much was stolen both by night and day” to alleviate the prevailing condition of hunger.  The mythical “feast” of the first Thanksgiving did fill their bellies briefly, he reported, and they were grateful, but abundance was anything but common.  Why did this happen?  Because they had fallen victim to the socialistic philosophy of “share the wealth.”  This disincentivizes the productive element of society.
Then suddenly, as though night changed to day, the crop of 1623 was bounteous, and those thereafter as well, and it had nothing to do with the weather.  Bradford wrote, “Instead of famine now God gave them plenty and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God.”  He concluded later, “any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day.”
One variable alone made the difference and ended the three-year famine.  They abandoned the notion of government (or corporation) owning the means of production and distribution in favor of the individual having property and being responsible to take care of himself.  Before no one benefited by working because he received the same compensation as those who did not.  After the change everyone kept the benefits of his labor.  Those who chose not to work basically chose also to be poor and the government (corporation) no longer confiscated from those who produced to give to those who did not.  No government food stamps here.
Ironically, all this could have been avoided had Plymouth consulted history and communicated with their neighboring colony, some distance south of them, who had previously been down the same trail.  Jamestown too was first a socialist society where each produced according to his ability and received according to his need which, of course, was affected by the supply.   One cannot divide what does not exist.  Our textbooks tell us that only one of twelve survived the first two years for precisely the same reason, again, largely because of their starving time.  The problem, as noted by Tom Bethel in his work “The Noblest Triumph: Property and Prosperity through the Ages,” was identified by an unnamed participant as “want of providence, industrie and government, and not the barenness and defect of the Countrie.”
Captain John Smith is credited with having saved the floundering colony by his “no workie, no eatie” government program (once again the Virginia Company was the government) and was hated for it.  Addicted to the promise of getting something for nothing, even if it is always less than promised, the receiving part of the population will always oppose their not getting their “fair share.”  Sound familiar?   Captain Smith was eventually carted off to England in chains as fast as the parasitic population could do so.  Once again, why?  Philip A. Bruce in his “Economic History of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century,” page 121, called it agricultural socialism.  “The settlers did not have even a modified interest in the soil…. Everything produced by them went into the store, in which they had no proprietorship.”  When settlers finally were allowed to own their own property, and keep what they produced, things changed over night.
Colony Secretary Ralph Hamor wrote of incoming prosperity, beginning in 1614, after ownership of land was allowed.  “When our people were fed out of the common store, and labored jointly together, glad was he [who] could slip from his labor, or slumber over his tasks he cared not how, nay, the most honest among them would hardly take so much true pains in a week, as now for themselves they will do in a day, neither cared they for the increase, presuming that however the harvest prospered, the general store must maintain them, so that we reaped not so much corn from the labors of thirty as now three or four do provide for themselves.”
This Thanksgiving let us be grateful for the prosperity that we have even in hard times such as today.  Jamestown and Plymouth set us upon a course that recognized that prosperity requires incentive to flourish and that the profit motive stimulates industry.  We are so grateful that having recognized the poison of “the share the wealth” philosophy, they purged it from their midst and proceeded to make America the most prosperous country on earth.  Others, through the ages, maintained that understanding.  Will we be so smart?  Let us share this message at the table as we feast upon turkey and pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving Day so that our children will know how prosperity is produced.
Dr. Harold Pease is an expert on the United States Constitution. He has taught history and political science from this perspective for over 25 years at Taft College. Published in The WCP 11.20.12


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