The holidays are upon us, but there is one aspect about Thanksgiving many people have never heard. When the pilgrims got to Plymouth Rock, their belief in communism almost led to their downfall. In fact, there was almost no first Thanksgiving at all.
- The Forgotten Story of Thanksgiving
- Why the Pilgrims Abandoned Common Ownership for Private Property
Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Connor: Hey, Brittany.
Brittany: Hi, Connor.
Connor: So the holidays are upon us, at least, you know, when this, episode is airing, we’re a few weeks ahead of time, but for our listeners it is Thanksgiving. So I thought we could use this holiday as a bit of a history lesson because there is a forgotten history behind Thanksgiving. It’s not just cornucopia and, you know, native Americans and the colonists had happiness and abundance and they shared and they sucked together. you know, it’s that, the story I remember hearing in, high school or in, earlier in school. but you know, in fact, one of the scary isms that we’ve mentioned before on this podcast nearly ruined the first Thanksgiving, basically communism in a way. And, so we’re gonna unpack that a little bit. What do you know about this, Brittany?
Brittany: Yeah, I’m glad you’re bring this up because one of my favorite historical writers, my name Richard Ebling, he once wrote about this, I think it was for Fee, I think he’s wrote about it elsewhere. We’ll also link to that in the show notes. But, and I think you wrote an article as well, but We’ll, he talks about how in the new world, which, you know, what they called America or Plymouth Rock, you know when they landed here, the pilgrims were here for religious freedom. I think that’s something that most of our listeners probably already know. That’s the basic thing you hear, right? But what they might not know is part of what, how they wanted to practice their religion was they wanted to institute a community of communal sharing and social altruism. Now, that’s a kind of a big word, so me explain what that means. Altruism is a belief that people should be completely selfless. You should only worry about others. And I’m gonna contrast this with something we talked about in another episode where we talk about, I rand and we talked about how sometimes there can actually be a lot of virtue and self and selfishness in the opposite of selflessness. So it’s not automatically some magically great thing to be altruistic. In fact, that’s what a lot of communists and socialists use to justify a system of oppression more or less. So it’s not always great.
Connor: What a lot of people don’t know about this story that I think makes it a little bit more interesting is that they had to get a lot of money, right? This religious kind of separatist if you will. And first, they moved to Holland, trying to live there, but then they were worried that like their, culture was slipping cuz they were kind of integrating into the surrounding community. So then some of the group went to England to try and get a loan. They wanted to find funding so that they could travel to America and establish their own colony. Cuz this was kind of happening at the time, right? That, Americas were kinda this open territory. And so they wanted to find a loan. So these representatives went to England and they negotiated. And what’s interesting is that there was an arrangement made with the people who gave the loan that after seven years, all of the property would be divided equally between, you know, the investors and the colonists. But the group in Holland didn’t like this. They wanted to be able to own their own property. And so they pushed back on this loan, they’re like, no, this is not gonna be good for us. But now the group’s representatives, these guys that had kind of negotiated the loan, they’re kind of caught in the middle. They had agreed to this loan, but the group said no. So finally the group, these pilgrims were like, okay, fine. They ultimately went along with it even though they kind of objected to this, quote-unquote equality, right? Because they recognized that some people are gonna work hard, some people are gonna work not at all, but you’re gonna give us all the same thing. And so the contract that they got for this loan required common ownership of property. So, you know, the investors, the people giving a loan on the other side of the world, they wanted a way to ensure that the group would all work towards this common goal, right? To benefit themselves, pay back their loan. And the people who negotiated the loan had to convince the rest of the group to go along with it. Well, what’s interesting is when they, named their colony Plymouth, right? And their ship was the Mayflower. They landed at Cape Cod. This was, clear back in 1620, and there were 102 people at the beginning, a pretty decent size ship. But slowly, or actually, rather quickly, I should say that 102 people turned into just a small group of a few dozen in the first few months. The rest of the people quickly died from like sickness and, starvation. The colony was better or barely able to keep up with themselves. So they start trying to, you know, plant corn and raise as much as they could. And, meanwhile, they have to pay back this loan. And they have everything kind of in common. They’re kind of all supposed to work. But what happens is all these people start calling in sick. In other words, oh, I don’t feel very good. I can’t work today. Because they knew that their work was going to be for other people.
Brittany: Would You say there was no incentive
Connor: Exactly. They had, or actually, let’s add a flip to this. They had a disincentive. Ah, right. it’s a bad incentive. The opposite of a proper or true incentive. They had a disincentive to work. In other words, they were incentivized to do the opposite of work. And so the colonial, I think he was the governor was his title, right, William Bradford. He recorded a lot of this in his journal, which is how we learned a lot about this. He took a lot of details. And so he was talking about how finally, he had to like, abolish the terms of the loan. He just said, forget it. Everyone owns their own stuff. Go start working. And pretty soon production like corn planted and harvested, skyrocketed, totally skyrocketed. People were dying of starvation. No one was working very hard. They weren’t growing very much stuff. And all of a sudden when they, when the governor said, no, we’re gonna do private property, no more of this like common ownership stuff, when people had their own incentives to work, when I knew that I would benefit from the work that I put in, suddenly I was way more energized to work, of course, than everyone else was. They could start trading one with another and being very productive. And so Thanksgiving in, effect is really this celebration of, yes, you know, some, helpful natives. This is in the year 1621, a table full of goods. They had just planted 26 acres, but a year later they planted 60. And then the year later, once private property had finally been established, 184 acres were planted. They tripled. And so, you know, Thanksgiving in my mind should be a triumph of capitalism over communism of, private property over being almost enslaved in a way to your neighbors that you’re supposed to work for them.
Brittany: Well, and it’s so funny to me cuz that’s not really what comes across in, the national dialogue, right? In fact, when I was doing research for this episode, I came across a bunch of other articles that were trying to debunk what really happened, you know, and saying, no, it was just bad conditions. No, they just didn’t, they just didn’t know how to plan on the land. They were new there. And it’s like, you can’t really read this story and read the details without seeing it as anything else, but a failure of, collectivism. And actually reminded me of a story of Bernie Sanders, who we’ve talked about on a past episode too. Bernie Sanders has once kicked off a Communist in the sixties and seventies. These were really big. It was where like hippies would go and they’d say, we’re not gonna have jobs. We’re each just gonna like on a farm, and we’re each gonna, we’re each gonna help each other and everything’s gonna work out well. Bernie Sanders got to this farm and hilariously enough did not put in his fair share, or he didn’t work as hard as he was supposed to. And eventually, so they had a rule in this, where you could stay for three days without question unless you like committed a crime. And then, after three days, if you weren’t pulling your weight, you were asked to leave. And Bernie Sanders was asked to leave after. So it’s just funny to me because it just doesn’t work. There’s no way around it doesn’t work.
Connor: Brittany, you and I have a quote to share. I’ll have you share it from the governor. And you’re right, a lot of people are trying to kind of warp the story of what actually happened. But when you read the Journal of the Governor and you know others at the time, the stories are there, it’s very clear. what happens. So how about if you’ll read it, maybe I’ll help kind of translate after you’re Done.
Brittany: Yes. Cause it’s an old English. so this is from Governor William Bradford. So I think you mentioned before, so for the young men that were able to fit, who were able and fit for labor and service, did Rapine that they should spend their time and strength for work for other men’s wives and children without recompense. So compensation, but you’ll go over the meeting after the strong or men of parts had no more division of food, clothes, etcetera, then he, that was weak and not able to do a quarter of the other could. This was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labor and food, clothes, etcetera with the meaner and younger sort thought it some indignant 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, et cetera. They didn’t, it deemed it a kind of slavery, neither their husbands broke it. I love that slavery line.
Connor: Totally. And so, okay, the basic summary here is he’s saying, yeah, uh, people were seeing that well, wait a minute, I can do a lot harder work, but I’m not gonna benefit any more than the other people who you know, are old or young and not able to work as hard. This is exactly what we talk about in the TuttleTwins and the search for Atlas, where you’ve got these clowns and you’ve got Atlas, and clearly they, work at different levels, they have different outputs. Some are more necessary and productive than others. And so to have an environment where everyone is treated equally is basically communism. And so, what William Bradford saw here very quickly was the problem he saw, he had understood that the complaints that were coming up were all based on this slavery idea. Women wanted to work for their own family and focus on, you know, the ones that they loved and not, you know, they, loved and cared for other people in the community, but well, wait a minute, why don’t you work for yourself? Right? Like, if you’re gonna be lazy and I have to like work for you and you’re gonna benefit just cuz you’re taking the day off or you know, disincentivized to work, then maybe I shouldn’t work. Maybe I should kick back. And pretty soon no one’s as productive as they could be because they’re all eyeing one another and like, well you’re, you’re being lazy, so I’m not gonna work as hard. Why should I go sweat and, toil, you know, if no one else is? And then it kind of is this vicious cycle that feeds on itself.
Brittany: And, they’re not wrong. Again, like I talked about with the Bernie Sanders thing, right? People were like, wait, why are we doing all this guy’s work for him? Like, what’s he doing? And it happens a lot in the, in societies that are like, communists are socialists. So it’s funny to me, especially since America is kind of the opposite of that, where we’re the antithesis of that. I find it very poetic that the first Thanksgiving was actually this recognition of, oh, this doesn’t work. You know, I kind of think that’s like the most perfect fitting American story.
Connor: I wanna read another portion of Bradford’s Journal where he, we learned kind of the follow-up decision. He says, after much debate of things the governor gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, other words for his own self, his own family. And in that regard, trust to themselves in all other things. To go in the general way as before. And so assigned to every family, a parcel of land according to the proportion of the number. In other words, big families would get a lot of land. One person would get less land for that end only for present use. let’s see. And ranged all boys and youth under some family, this had very good success. He says for it made all hands 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 for better content. The women, we talked earlier about slavery in his journal, he says the women, now went willingly into the field and took their little ones with them to set corn, which before would allege or claim allege weakness and inability. He’s saying, these women are now working hard. Where before they were like, oh, I can’t, right? And then he says, who to have compelled would’ve been thought a great tyranny and oppression. Like we could not have compelled these women to work, but now they’re working like crazy because they see that their family can benefit. And he’s clearly seeing a contrast here. He’s like, it wouldn’t have been good for me to compel people. They were kind of enslaved before, but we were very successful because it made all he says, all hands industrious and this gets by incentive. Like everyone had the incentive to work. And, so that was very energizing. It was very motivating. And, look, there are certain people who can’t work. There are legitimate cases, yes, where someone needs support from others ob obviously, and absolutely, but, by and large, right? If people can work, then they need the right incentives. you know, when we went through all the CORONA VIRUS stuff, the government was literally paying people extra money for not working.
Brittany: It was like $600 a week extra for not working.
Connor: Extra on top of what the other money they were already getting. And so there were a lot of people like restaurants, trying to reopen and they would go back to like their cooks and their servers and everyone else, and they wouldn’t come back to work because the government was paying them more money to not work. That was a disincentive to work rather than the government stepping outta the way and saying, you’re on your own. For those of you who are, you know, capable and, so forth, you know, go, figure it out. Go get a job and go hustle. Go, plant corn. Go be industrious, right? And, so it’s so amazing to see that the real story of Thanksgiving, is about something much more interesting than just hey, Everyone was happy. It’s like, no, look, this was like the first big lesson in America was to avoid communism and respect private property.
Brittany: I think a fun thing too, I know that like my family goes around and says, what we’re thankful for before we eat dinner on Thanksgiving. So maybe if you’re listening to this, maybe you can surprise your extended family and give them a little history lesson when you’re going around and say, you know, you’re thankful for free market capitalism and, you know, incentives and work. Like how, how much work can just help everybody, not just your own family, but everybody kind of vetted from this. So I think it’s really interesting to take a look at history and see what really happened.
Connor: Absolutely. Hope you guys enjoyed the topic. Happy Thanksgiving. Head to Tuttletwins.com/podcast. We will have links to these articles we mentioned. If you wanna do a little bit more learning, maybe have the quotes we’ve mentioned Handy, so that you can share ’em with your family. Have a great discussion about why we should be so thankful for things like property rights and, the right incentive to work hard and the ability to earn, you know what we work hard to do. So thanks is always Brittany. We’ll talk to you next time.
Brittany: Talk to you later.