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How Socialism Nearly Destroyed the Plymouth Colony Pilgrims

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Socialism is, and always will, be a colossal failure. This is for the simple reason that even the best of men eventually grow tired of getting ripped off. An entire economy based on theft – even legalized theft – cannot possibly work.

We’re always told that the only reason socialism has never worked is that the right people haven’t been in charge. Well, if there were ever a group of men who were the right people to put in charge of an experiment in socialism, it was our Pilgrim forebears.

They were godly, steeped in Scripture, and pure in motive. As Governor Bradford said, these were “good and honest men.” In fact, the entire purpose of their relocation to the New World was for “the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.” (Yes, America was founded as a Christian nation.)

Two hundred and forty years before Karl Marx, they set up the Plymouth Colony to operate according to the classic Marxist dictum of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” A “common stock” was created into which all capital and profit – from trade, working, fishing, etc. – was to be deposited for seven years, at which point the spoils would be divided equally. Along the way, the colonists would be able to dip into the common stock as necessary for food and clothing.

It was nice in theory but abysmal in practice. Governor William Bradford described the whole experiment as a “failure” because it was predicated on “the taking away of private property,” a violation of at least two of the ten commandments (the ones against stealing and coveting). They only tried this, he rued, because they thought they were “wiser than God.”

The result, as is always the case with socialism and communism, was “much confusion and discontent” and a catastrophic reduction in productivity. The able and hardworking single men began to resent spending their time and labor working for other men’s families with nothing to show for it.

The older men got the same share as the younger, which they thought was fundamentally unfair and a display of “disrespect” for their wisdom and maturity. The wives who wound up doing cooking and laundry for other men began to chafe under the arrangement as “a kind of slavery,” and their husbands naturally wanted their energy to be focused on their own homes and families.

The whole experiment was a disaster, a breeding ground for resentment, bitterness, and a profound sense of injustice. Bradford makes it clear that the failure was due “to this communistic plan of life in itself” and not because the right people weren’t running things.

The solution to the Pilgrims’ dilemma was good, old-fashioned capitalism and free enterprise. Each man was allowed “to plant corn for his own household” on a “parcel of land” that was his own.

“This,” said Bradford,

“was very successful. 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.

“The women now went willing into the field, and took their little ones with them to plant corn, while before they would allege weakness and inability, and to have compelled them would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.”

Each was given his own property to work and develop as he chose. Each man was responsible to work with his own hands to provide for himself and for his family. Each man was able to keep the fruit of his own labor. Everyone had the same opportunity, and what they did with that opportunity was up to them. Their inalienable right to “the pursuit of happiness” was at last protected.

And so the Plymouth Colony flourished and became both a cautionary tale and a shining example for subsequent generations. Its story must be taught to every young American in every home and every school as an antidote to the mindless big-government utopianism that has seeped into so many young minds.

As the philosopher George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” God preserves history for us so that we do not have to learn every lesson the hard way. Let’s save ourselves, our children, and their children after them a boatload of trouble by applying the lessons the Plymouth Colony teaches us. Generations yet unborn will thank us.

(Unless otherwise noted, the opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Family Association or American Family Radio.)

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