How Did the Pilgrims Beat ‘Communism’ With the Free Market?

Recalling the story of the Pilgrims is a Thanksgiving tradition, but do you know the real story behind their triumph over hunger and poverty at Plymouth Colony nearly four centuries ago? Their salvation stemmed not so much from the charitable gestures of local Indians, but from their courageous decision to embrace the free-market principle of private property ownership a century and a half before Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations.

The Failure of Communal Living

Writing in his diary of the dire economic straits and self-destructive behavior that consumed his fellow Puritans shortly after their arrival, Governor William Bradford painted a picture of destitute settlers selling their clothes and bed coverings for food while others “became servants to the Indians,” cutting wood and fetching water in exchange for “a capful of corn.” The most desperate among them starved.

The colony’s leaders identified the source of their problem as a particularly vile form of what Bradford called “communism.” Property in Plymouth Colony, he observed, was communally owned and cultivated. This system (“taking away of property and bringing [it] into a commonwealth”) bred “confusion and discontent” and “retarded much employment that would have been to [the settlers’] benefit and comfort.”

The most able and fit young men in Plymouth thought it an “injustice” that they were paid the same as those “not able to do a quarter the other could.” Women, meanwhile, viewed the communal chores they were required to perform for others as a form of “slavery.”

The Success of the Free Market

On the brink of extermination, the Colony’s leaders changed course and allotted a parcel of land to each settler, hoping the private ownership of farmland would encourage self-sufficiency and lead to the cultivation of more corn and other foodstuffs.

As Adam Smith would have predicted, this new system worked famously. “This had very good success,” Bradford reported, “for it made all hands very industrious.” In fact, “much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been” and productivity increased. The famine that nearly wiped out the Pilgrims in 1623 gave way to a period of agricultural abundance that enabled the Massachusetts settlers to set down permanent roots in the New World, prosper, and play an indispensable role in the ultimate success of the American experiment.

A profoundly religious man, Bradford saw the hand of God in the Pilgrims’ economic recovery. Their success, he observed, “may well evince the vanity of that conceit…that the taking away of property… would make [men] happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God.” Bradford surmised, “God in his wisdom saw another course fitter for them.”

Lessons for Today

Plymouth’s Pilgrims may have survived that near-fatal brush with socialism but, sadly, many political leaders remain transfixed by a blind faith in the ability of government to shape and set the course of human behavior. Nowadays the government is taking more and more from hard-working Americans through taxes, and embarking on an experiment that has for centuries proven unsuccessful, and unjust according to the early American settlers. As we remember our blessings this Thanksgiving, also be reminded of our Founders’ first principles: personal responsibility, individual liberty, and prosperity through free markets.

The Heritage Foundation

11 Responses to “How Did the Pilgrims Beat ‘Communism’ With the Free Market?”

  1. hey,when its your you care for it more..

  2. This is probably the single most important experiment in the history of this Country. It has (so far) remained the foundation of the Constitution and the Country it created.
    Is it any wonder this is not taught to our children?
    I do believe Rush wrote of this in his second book.

  3. [this is good]

  4. [this is good] Makes sense to me. Unfortunately, far too many want hand outs now.

  5. [this is good] I’m sorry, but… what? Free market? There was no purchase of land, no selling by an owner. It was simply grabbed up and assigned to private ownership. There’s no exchange of money involved unless you’re counting those shams of transactions where they traded beads for whole territories of land.You can’t call it an economic recovery when they had no economy in the first place. The fact that you’re drawing a correlation between the Pilgrims and what we face as a society now is embarrassing.They came to a country where they had nothing, and it wasn’t suddenly owning property that made them recover. It was the hard work on that land, whole seasons later, that provided the food they needed to survive. Giving the credit to some economic principle that didn’t even exist at that time is an insult to the work they put into itThe Heritage Foundation deserves a kick in the  collective rear end for insulting the Pilgrims by politicizing what they went through.

  6. [this is good]

  7. The exchange of goods came after the private ownership of property, hence the free market.  Perhaps an actual READ of the article is in order here.Your second to last paragraph shows you didn’t read the article in its entirety, because what you claim happened didn’t happen that way, at least not until people were given their own land and the opportunity to be rewarded for the hard work on it.  You appear to be commenting merely on the title of the article.You may note that the so-called “shams” of beads for land was with a people that did not believe they owned the land anyway.  So who was scamming who?  You seem to forget they were, while living under their communal system, veritable slaves to those “poor Indians”.  Finally, you may not like it, but the free market is determined by what one person is willing to pay the other for the goods.What happened after everyone owned their own land and was responsible for it?  Why they cultivated it and grew food, or used it to manufacture hand made things like tools and furniture etc.  They then benefited from the hard work by being able to sell it.  Thus gaining benefit and payment for their hard work, according to their efforts.The Thanksgiving was not just for the native’s help in showing them how to grow the native vegetables etc. on their own land, but that for the first time ever, they had a bounteous harvest and people had their dignity back.  The modification of how they did things is what saved them.  The stronger got rewarded for their efforts as well as the teachers and the skilled.This isn’t rocket science, nor is it made up.  It just happens to be the one of many real world examples of how getting rewarded for your own efforts in proportion to your work actually works, and that “sharing the wealth” always ends up with there being no more wealth because the producers end up stop producing because their reward is being given to the bum for the “good of the community.”Your ignorance of “a system that didn’t even exist” is quite obvious.  Just because some self-righteous idiot in a university didn’t put pen to paper about a communal or social form of society doesn’t mean it didn’t exist.  The key definition of communism is to have all things in common, take from each according to their abilities and give to each according to their needs.  This form of society has frequently been tried throughout the centuries.  Communism isn’t, nor wasn’t a new idea.  Just because Adam Smith and Karl Marx wrote of it, doesn’t mean forms of it weren’t tried throughout history.  Such societies have always degraded to the lowest common denominator as those that can do give up because it is given to those that won’t do.This simple fact is a triumphant salute to the pilgrims.  Their “hard work” was after they were allowed to benefit from it.  Governor Bradford said what was failing (their communal society) and what succeeded (when they ditched it for an ownership society).  It’s this convenient ignoring of this historical fact is what disrespects the pilgrims.  The credit was to the pilgrims, each individual pilgrim, because when they were given individual responsibility, the whole society actually benefited as a result.It’s not politicizing, it’s called facts, not some BS whining about those poor Indians, which is also a shame, at least when it comes to this particular historical account.  That too disrespects the pilgrims.  Those “poor Indians” actually took advantage of the pilgrims misery and treated them like servants.

  8. I will point out to you that I read the whole article. I just read it again to make sure I had it right the first time. My opinion hasn’t changed.What you don’t understand is that HF’s attempt to draw a modern parallel between the Pilgrims and now fails, because it doesn’t show a deeper understanding of the situation, much like in that conversation we had about Francis Scott Key.Bradford might have called it communism, but that doesn’t make it the same thing as what we now consider communism, a political ideology where the government makes sure everyone has equal amounts. No land was purchased, there was no government administration. The Pilgrims simply moved in, colonized the area, and took over the land. At this point, the Pilgrims face a very specific problem – farming is seasonal. You can’t just stick seeds in the ground and withdraw food. There is no grocery store to get some credit to carry you over. Their only alternative source is the Indians who don’t mass produce and therefore can’t hand out food like the Salvation Army. You make it sound like they had great fields of food ready to give away and were simply taking advantage. The only reason I mentioned them is because in the context of the Indians, the only and I do mean only, actual market of land was the Manhattan Exchange. Completely disorganized, chaotic settlement because nobody has any idea how to make a sustainable farming settlement, and no promise that your work will yield any reward if you are successful.So, you rearrange things so that people farm their own lots and have their own land. Makes sense. This assignment does not involve the exchange of money because there was no government to sell the land, and nobody owned it in the first place. In the case of the Pilgrims, they didn’t even have the ridiculous Manhattan Exchange, they simply allotted the land.The pilgrims didn’t all of a sudden start working hard because they got their own land. They were already doing that and not seeing a gain for their efforts. Instead, they were seeing starvation.A market involves an exchange of goods and services. There was none. Allotments were made, and the Pilgrims worked that land for their rewards. Oh yes, a market did grow from their work, but you certainly can’t credit the market for that beginning.Realize that I am not saying the Free Market didn’t exist AT ALL, but that it didn’t exist in the context of the Pilgrims. There was no land to buy or sell, the only market being their services to the Indians for what they could get for food. This is a blatant attempt to politicize the colonials by drawing parallels between them and what we face today. I’m sure that next we’ll be hearing about how the Battle of the Alamo was a triumph over terrorism, the civil war was a condemnation of Maoism and the Revolutionary War was really a battle against socialism.On an irrelevant note: Free Markets prevent fraud. The Manhattan Exchange can’t be called anything but fraud.

  9. Get over the “land wasn’t purchased thing”.  It wasn’t the land, it was what they got to do with the land is what matters.  They were FORCED to give the fruits of their hard work to the community, and then they only got back what was deemed “fair” them.  Many didn’t like the idea of working hard to only have the fruits of their labor given to someone else.  THAT IS COMMUNISM.  It’s being forced to turn over everything to the community for the “good of the people”.My God, is it only capitalists that actually understand communism??As to “allotments were made”.  It was those allotments that gave the incentive to PROFIT from their work.  It’s the same land they had before.  The only thing different now is that they got to own a small piece of it to do with as they chose.  They chose to work hard on it because they could profit from it.  They sold their surplus to those that had not a surplus.  Each has a trade they specialized in.  Each profited off of the other.  As a result, society improved and they gave thanks for it.This isn’t hard to see.  Your statement of “Oh yes, a market did grow from their work, but you certainly can’t
    credit the market for that beginning.” is completely irresponsible.  It is this very thing that rescued them from squalor.  You dismiss it, and yet it’s the 600 pound gorilla in the room!  When given incentive, people excel at their ingenuity and productivity.  That is the point.

  10. You seem to have this weird impression that I’m anti-captalism, pro-communism, and out to get any perceived attacks on communism. Just the opposite. I live in a capitalist country, enjoy the fruits of living here, and have no desire for that to change. Calling me a communist for disagreeing with you is below you, Supersparky.What I DO resent more than even that, is the blatant politicization of our heritage in order to score points in this ridiculous vendetta people have against the current administration.  It’s like claiming that liberals are the modern day equivalent of World War II vets, fighting the Hitler that was Bush. It is an insult.The point here, and the reason that I keep returning to the purchase of the land, is that the LAND is where that food came from, and hard work of the pilgrims is what brought that food.You can’t see, in your burning desire to prove that the Pilgrims were triumphing over the evil spectre of Communism, that the disorganization (as opposed to communism, which is organized reappropriation aka theft) is what caused their starvation. They may both be called communism, but they are not the same thing. Nobody forced them to give up to the community, they did it out of a mutual desire for survival. They weren’t working as slaves for some fatcat indians or Goodman John who was taking home the extra corn. They weren’t doing it for the good of the community. They did it becasuse it was what they had. They were given a better alternative and took it. Don’t assume I have a problem with what they did. They took a bad system and made it better.They, through their hard work and improved organization did that. Not any free market, but the people. You might call that capitalism, and I might agree, but it sure as heck isn’t free market. Owning private property is not the same thing as a free market UNTIL that property is bought or sold. The pilgrims had nothing to do with the free market. Giving them property didn’t change it. Trying to make it relevant is a sick joke.Adding this labels that have nothing to do with it in order to draw political parallels is poor form.

  11. I don’t think you are anti-capitalist.  Nevertheless, what I do always get the impression of from you is a lack of recognition for the obvious.  ONCE AGAIN you missed the point.  The plots of land or “property” as you term it, is a TOOL, a means to an end.  It is the right to USE said property for whatever the owner deems fit.The property itself isn’t the object of the market, it is the vehicle or tool.  They profit off of what they grow, manufacture, or sell on the property.  One may choose to be a farmer.  One may choose to run a lumber mill (next to a river maybe).  One may choose to make furniture.  One may choose to be a blacksmith.  One may even choose to have a store to sell all these for the producers.  That is what the land was for.  It is irrelevant how much the land is worth and irrelevant if it was ever sold during this time period.  Do you get it now???It’s the fact that it allowed the individual to make their own choices and gave an incentive to produce whatever it was they chose to produce and sell.  It wasn’t the land.Before they had their own land, they also had to contribute everything to their community and then get a small portion back.  That is what caused the problems.  That it was a communal society has never been in dispute  Those that produced, were angry because those that didn’t were just having a free ride.  Therefore, those that produced, produced less because there was no incentive to work harder for the surplus.  They couldn’t sell the surplus corn, whatever, they had to give it away.You work twelve to fifteen hours a day in the hot sun and see how much you appreciate it when someone that works considerably less gets just as much as you from what you produced!That is the meaning of the situation.  The land was only part of the equation here, and yet that is what you choose to comment on.  Property isn’t just land!  There are things called “goods” and “services” that can also be means for an incentive.The solution to their problems was the ELIMINATION of the communal rules, and the allocation of plots of land.You need to look up what “capitalism” and “free market” is.  Capitalism is the RESULT of the free market.  The term “Capitalism” is misused.  The more correct term is “Free Market”.  A “market” is any situation where a product, good, and/or service is sold in exchange for either money or a different product, good, or service.  The “free” part is double ended.  The seller is FREE to sell and item for what they deem it’s worth.  The buyer is “FREE” to refuse to buy it, haggle, or agree to pay the asking price.The Pilgrims weren’t celebrating a triumph over Communism.  They were giving thanks for their preservation and eventual prosperity, which was caused by them abandoning their commune and embracing a free market.  They may not have known the definitions, but their Governor was wise enough to recognize that what they were doing was the root of their problems.Simply said, their communal society was causing misery and was a failure.  A change to a more free and self-determining society encouraged  production and prosperity.They had no choice before.  They had to give to the commune.  Everyone was forced to have everything in common.  This is the very definition of Communism.This isn’t politicizing history.  This is pointing out flawed ideas and principles that have been around for thousands of years, and have failed every time they are tried; and pointing out what actually works.  It’s called THE TRUTH.How do I know how this works?  Well, my own church had this very same problem in the middle 1800’s.  It was shown that unless everyone is fully into the communal society WILLING (and free) to give 100% and without jealousy nor resentment, with a genuine love for each other, then it just doesn’t work.  The only time people, as a society are going to succeed in a free communal environment is when evil is no more.  My church didn’t force people, but it still had the same problems.  Human beings fall short of the ideal that would make such a system work.  We just aren’t ready for it.  I believe that the perfect society is communal, a “United Order”, but only if freely lived with people full of charity and love for one another, of our own choice, without the iron hand of a totalitarian government.The error here, and has always been, it is forced by a government.  Communism is a counterfeit to such a United Order.Like Moses smashing the tablets seeing the people weren’t ready for what was written on them, he got something they could do until the Messiah came.  The next best system is the free market system, and it has always shown to work.This is more than an economic system.  It is fundamental to every right and freedom granted to us by God or Nature.  To live free and to determine how you live is a right everyone has in order to have the opportunity for happiness.  It’s the single biggest point of life here on earth.  Everything rests upon this freedom more than just an economic system.  That liberty is the foundation that enables everything else.For charity to work, it must come from the heart, the love of the individual for another.  It cannot be forced by a government.  That is just theft and grows resentment, something contrary to charity.  Real charity makes you feel good and want to do it again and give more.  Theft by having it taken away just breeds anger, and the taker usually takes some for themselves before spreading around what’s left.  The receiver that gets a genuine hand up is encourage to do so, so they can help someone else in the future and their life also improves.  The receiver that just gets a handout see no incentive to do anything as they get what they need for free.No, I sincerely believe Socialism, in all its forms, be it Fascism, Communism or so-called Democratic Socialism, is plain and simple evil, an oligarchy of thieves and thugs with no real concern for the individual.  I consider it the ultimate in greed.I still respect yah though.

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