The Pilgrims Were ... Socialists?
By Kate Zernike
Finally, the governor of the colony, William Bradford, abolished this system and gave each household a parcel of land. With private property to call their own, the Pilgrims were suddenly very industrious and found themselves with more corn than they knew what to do with. So they invited the Indians over to celebrate. (In some other versions, the first Thanksgiving is not a feast but a brief respite from famine. But the moral is always the same: socialism doesn’t work.) The same commune-to-capitalism, famine-to-feast story is told of Jamestown, the first English settlement, in 1607. Dick Armey, the former House majority leader and Texas congressman who has become a Tea Party promoter, related it as a cautionary tale in a speech to the National Press Club earlier this year.
Rush Limbaugh repeats the Thanksgiving story of Plymouth every year, reading it from a chapter in one of his books titled “Dead White Guys, or What Your History Books Never Told You.” (Some details change; one year, he had the Pilgrims growing organic vegetables.)
The version is also taught in a one-day course called “The Making of America,” which became popular with Tea Party groups across the country after Glenn Beck recommended the work of its author, W. Cleon Skousen, who died in 2006. Tea Party blogs have reposted “The Great Thanksgiving Hoax” from a Web site celebrating the work of the libertarian economist Ludwig von Mises, a favorite of Ron Paul devotees. The post concludes: “Thus the real reason for Thanksgiving, deleted from the official story, is: Socialism does not work; the one and only source of abundance is free markets, and we thank God we live in a country where we can have them.”
Leave aside the question of whether this country is on the march to socialism (conservatives say yes, and blame the Democrats). What does the record say?
Historians say that the settlers in Plymouth, and their supporters in England, did indeed agree to hold their property in common—William Bradford, the governor, referred to it in his writings as the “common course.” But the plan was in the interest of realizing a profit sooner, and was only intended for the short term; historians say the Pilgrims were more like shareholders in an early corporation than subjects of socialism.
“It was directed ultimately to private profit,” said Richard Pickering, a historian of early America and the deputy director of Plimoth Plantation, a museum devoted to keeping the Pilgrims’ story alive.
The arrangement did not produce famine. If it had, Bradford would not have declared the three days of sport and feasting in 1621 that became known as the first Thanksgiving. “The celebration would never have happened if the harvest was going to be less than enough to get them by,” Mr. Pickering said. “They would have saved it and rationed it to get by.”
The competing versions of the story note Bradford’s writings about “confusion and discontent” and accusations of “laziness” among the colonists. But Mr. Pickering said this grumbling had more to do with the fact that the Plymouth colony was bringing together settlers from all over England, at a time when most people never moved more than 10 miles from home. They spoke different dialects and had different methods of farming, and looked upon each other with great wariness.
“One man’s laziness is another man’s industry, based on the agricultural methods they’ve learned as young people,” he said.
Bradford did get rid of the common course—but it was in 1623, after the first Thanksgiving, and not because the system wasn’t working. The Pilgrims just didn’t like it. In the accounts of colonists, Mr. Pickering said, “there was griping and groaning.”
“Bachelors didn’t want to feed the wives of married men, and women don’t want to do the laundry of the bachelors,” he said.
The real reason agriculture became more profitable over the years, Mr. Pickering said, is that the Pilgrims were getting better at farming crops like corn that had been unknown to them in England.
In a section labeled "Private and communal farming (1623)," Bradford does speak highly of privately owning land and its effect on the colonists:
How much clearer could Bradford have made it? The first harvest provided more than enough for everyone. That's why the Pilgrims celebrated with a three-day feast. If they'd still been suffering, they wouldn't have had enough food for the feast. And they wouldn't have wanted to hold one.
While most Americans commemorate the Thanksgiving of 1621, teabaggers are trying to rewrite history. Here's an idea, you lying sacks of excrement: If you think 1623 was the first harvest worth celebrating, denounce your fellow Americans who don't know any better. Tell them to knock off all the displays, pageants, and parades featuring the Pilgrims and Indians eating together. Protest and march until everyone--churches, textbook publishers, even Plymouth Plantation itself--understands that we're commemorating the wrong Thanksgiving.
Be sure to condemn your fellow conservatives most harshly, because they're the most likely to regurgitate the standard myth. For instance, Ronald Reagan didn't know anything about a failed harvest in 1621. He repeatedly told Americans the same story Obama reiterated decades later.
Until you denounce Reagan and other liberal dupes, teabaggers, you're a craven bunch of liars and hypocrites. You don't believe what you're saying; you're simply fabricating history to promote your far-right agenda. You're just like the Communists and the Nazis: You hope that if you tell a big enough lie, people will start believing you.
For more teabagger lies, see Beck Slams Tribal Flag Song, Islamophobia Just Like Stephen's, and Teabaggers = Constitutional Hypocrites.