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My view: Pilgrims learned socialism doesn't work

The first colonists at Plymouth, Mass., almost starved until they switched to private property and ownership.

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  • | 11:15 a.m. November 18, 2020
  • Longboat Key
  • Opinion
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Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to remember the roots of the American “experience.” It is a great story.

The Puritans, a group of deeply religious people, left their native England during the early 1600s after negotiating a land grant and passage on the Mayflower for the New World.

They arrived in November 1620 off the coast of what is now Plymouth, Mass. Seeking stability for their new colony, before landing, they agreed to a compact with general rules of conduct. That came to be known as “The Mayflower Compact,” or the first attempt at organized self-government in America.

Jim Tollerton
Jim Tollerton

Among the dreams of this Christian community was a common storehouse of food, clothing and other supplies, available to colonists as needed.

Theoretically, this tight Christian community should have cooperated and prospered. The colony, however, suffered during that first winter, using up the supplies.  The original leader died and was replaced by William Bradford in the spring of 1621. Bradford in 1623 wrote of the experience of the colony in “History of the Plymouth Plantation.”

Bradford noted some of the colonists didn’t work or contribute to the colony’s well-being, so he and other elders determined to amend the general rules of the community. Among other changes, instead of an open storehouse, now only those who worked in some form were to be offered access and supplies.

Soon after, the colony prospered, and with the help of the local native Americans, it thrived within a few years. Or, as Bradford told it:

“The failure of this experiment of communal service, which was tried for several years, and by good and honest men proves the emptiness of the theory of Plato and other ancients applauded by some of the later times — that the taking away of private property, and the possession of it in community, by a commonwealth, would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. 

“For in this instance, community of property (so far as it went) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment which would have been to the general benefit and comfort.

“For the young men who were most able and fit for service objected to being forced to spend their time and strength working for other men’s wives and children, without any recompense. The strong man or the resourceful man had no more share of food, clothes, etc. than the weak man … This was thought injustice. 

“The aged and graver men, who were ranked and equalized in labour, food, clothes, etc. with the humbler and younger ones, thought it some indignity and disrespected to them.

“Let none argue that this is due to human failing, rather than to this communistic plan of life in itself. I answer, seeing that all men have this failing in them, that God in His wisdom saw that another plan of life was fitter for them.”

The resulting success story we call Thanksgiving and America.

Socialism or communism (even “democratic socialism”) has never worked as a human economic system and never will. 

Happy Thanksgiving.

Jim Tollerton is a Sarasota resident and is the founder of Professional Benefits Inc.


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