We all know the story. The Pilgrims disembark from the Mayflower to start a new life in the New World. Times are tough, and they, for some reason, have forgotten how to farm. Luckily, some natives stop by and teach them how to work the land. A great harvest is brought in and everyone feasts together. Afterward, they go to a nearby hill and hold hands while singing John Lenin's Imagine and crying.
Except for that last part, that's basically how I learned it in elementary school. I don't believe it was ever revisited during my tenure at higher education. So, like with most things, I was left to my own devices to become educated on our nation's history. I would like to share what I found.
I must warn you, however, that this will not be the standard story you may have held on to that closely mirrors the myth above. This will not be the stuff of children's plays and Thanksgiving greeting cards (more's the pity). If you would rather live with a caricature of history in your mind, by all means please stop reading now. If you, like me, would rather the truth than a fairy tale, read further.
At the start of the Plymouth colony, all lived in a communal advent. Each person was to work equally and to collect equally. There was no individual property, but communal property. Though this predated the work of Marx by some 228 years, they were living in a communism (though the colonists took the rubric from Plato, so it's not really a new concept). William Bradford, Pilgrim and governor of the Plymouth colony for some 35 years, had this to say about the communistic experiment:
"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 the 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. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labors and victuals, clothes etc., with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them. And for men's wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook it."
In seeking equality, they had found a particular oppression. Discontent was bred amoung the colonists. Radio stations refused to play Imagine, and Che shirt sales were at an all time low.
Bradford needed a new direction. He believed that, "God in His wisdom saw another course fitter for them." Instead of community property and stores, he decided to divide the land by family and population, with each being able to work his own parcel as he saw fit. The free-market was thus born in the United States (though not yet the United States).
The result? According to Bradford:
"This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression."
In fact, the Pilgrims had so much from their harvest that not only did they not go starving, but they were able to export corn back to Europe!
So, what was the real first Thanksgiving? A giving of thanks to God for showing the colonists the err of communism and allowing them to embrace the free-market system. While you may think that's rhetoric or politically motivated, it is fact. It is history.
I thought communism was an outdated idea that has been shown a failure for these past 100 years. I was wrong. It has been shown a failure at least these past 388 years. It is not a bold, new idea; it is not progressive. The question is: will we learn from our forefathers, or make the same mistakes they did through our ignorance and hubris?