November 21, 2012

NYT v. Rush Limbaugh on Thanksgiving

NYT Link

Critical issue: Did William Bradford’s Pilgrims go capitalist before or after the first Thanksgiving? Answer: Actually after, but that doesn’t alter the lesson of prosperity.

The historical record says yes, and I’ll link to Rush’s site today after he covers it.

UPDATE: I don’t need to wait that long, as a Rush link from 2007 works (additional paragraph breaks and bolds added by me) –

The Real Story of Thanksgiving

… Now, the real story of Thanksgiving: “On August 1, 1620, the Mayflower set sail. It carried a total of 102 passengers, including forty Pilgrims led by William Bradford. On the journey, Bradford set up an agreement, a contract, that established just and equal laws for all members of the new community, irrespective of their religious beliefs. Where did the revolutionary ideas expressed in the Mayflower Compact come from? From the Bible,” and this is what’s not taught. This is what’s left out. “The Pilgrims were a people completely steeped in the lessons of the Old and New Testaments. They looked to the ancient Israelites for their example. And, because of the biblical precedents set forth in Scripture, they never doubted that their experiment would work.

But this was no pleasure cruise, friends. The journey to the New World was a long and arduous one. And when the Pilgrims landed in New England in November, they found, according to Bradford’s detailed journal, a cold, barren, desolate wilderness. There were no friends to greet them, he wrote. There were no houses to shelter them. There were no inns where they could refresh themselves. And the sacrifice they had made for freedom was just beginning. During the first winter, half the Pilgrims — including Bradford’s own wife — died of either starvation, sickness, or exposure.

“When spring finally came, Indians taught the settlers how to plant corn, fish for cod and skin beavers for coats. Life improved for the Pilgrims, but they did not yet prosper! This is important to understand because this is where modern American history lessons often end. Thanksgiving is actually explained in some textbooks as a holiday for which the Pilgrims gave thanks to the Indians for saving their lives, rather than as a devout expression of gratitude grounded in the tradition of both the Old and New Testaments.

Here is the part that has been omitted: The original contract the Pilgrims had entered into with their merchant-sponsors in London called for everything they produced to go into a common store, and each member of the community was entitled to one common share. All of the land they cleared and the houses they built belong to the community as well.” They were collectivists! Now, “Bradford, who had become the new governor of the colony, recognized that this form of collectivism was as costly and destructive to the Pilgrims as that first harsh winter, which had taken so many lives.

“He decided to take bold action. Bradford assigned a plot of land to each family to work and manage, thus turning loose the power of the marketplace. … Long before Karl Marx was even born, the Pilgrims had discovered and experimented with what could only be described as socialism. And what happened? It didn’t work! Surprise, surprise, huh? What Bradford and his community found was that the most creative and industrious people had no incentive to work any harder than anyone else, unless they could utilize the power of personal motivation!

But while most of the rest of the world has been experimenting with socialism for well over a hundred years — trying to refine it, perfect it, and re-invent it — the Pilgrims decided early on to scrap it permanently. What Bradford wrote about this social experiment should be in every schoolchild’s history lesson,” every kid gets. “If it were, we might prevent much needless suffering in the future.” Here’s what he wrote: “‘The experience that we had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years…that by taking away property, and bringing community into a common wealth, would make them happy and flourishing — as if they were wiser than God,’ Bradford wrote.

“‘For this community [so far as it was] was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For young men that were most able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense…that was thought injustice.’” That was thought injustice. “Do you hear what he was saying, ladies and gentlemen? The Pilgrims found that people could not be expected to do their best work without incentive. So what did Bradford’s community try next? They unharnessed the power of good old free enterprise by invoking the undergirding capitalistic principle of private property. Every family was assigned its own plot of land to work and permitted to market its own crops and products. And what was the result?” ‘This had very good success,’ wrote Bradford, “for it made all hands industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been.”

Bradford doesn’t sound like much of a Clintonite, does he? Is it possible that supply-side economics could have existed before the 1980s? … In no time, the Pilgrims found they had more food than they could eat themselves. … So they set up trading posts and exchanged goods with the Indians.

“The profits allowed them to pay off their debts to the merchants in London. And the success and prosperity of the Plymouth settlement attracted more Europeans and began what came to be known as the ‘Great Puritan Migration.’” Now, aside from this program, have you heard this before? Is this “being taught to children — and if not, why not? I mean, is there a more important lesson one could derive from the Pilgrim experience than this?”

The timeline of Rush’s narrative indicates that the capitalist decision was made after the first Thanksgiving, but that doesn’t alter the lesson. What it does indicate is that the Pilgrims were thankful even for less than bountiful harvests at the first Thanksgiving. One supposes that they were even more thankful in subsequent years after they started achieving more of their true potential.

The Times attempts to use leftist university profs to undermine Bradford’s plain words about how and why the Pilgrims prospered. Sorry, NYT. Nice try, no sale.



  1. Very interesting. This is the first I am hearing this.

    What I find most interesting is that the Pilgrims, being religiously motivated, would probably have the best chance for Communism working. That is, I think that they are the most likely to be motivated to working for the Lord as opposed to working for the state. And yet, they still couldn’t make it work.

    Once you remove the motivation of highly religious people working for God, you’re left with secular people working for the ‘state’. I don’t think such people would be motivated to produce, either.

    The only place where I can think that anything close to ‘communism’ works is in religious communities (e.g. Catholic monasteries), which are entered into on a voluntary basis with much discernment and always with an open door out.

    Comment by GW — November 21, 2012 @ 11:32 am

  2. Your point that not even strong Christians can overcome the frailties of human nature in a communal environment is a huge one, esp since so many churches seem to aspire to all-are-equal-in-every-aspect societies which don’t work and have never worked.

    Comment by Tom — November 21, 2012 @ 11:39 am

  3. [...] NYT v. Rush Limbaugh on Thanksgiving [...]

    Pingback by NYT v. Rush Limbaugh on Thanksgiving | PERSUASION IN INK — November 21, 2012 @ 1:02 pm

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