Holiday fun from Reason TV. Come for the silly Python-esque pronunciations of colonial English, stay for the history lesson about America’s very first experiment with socialism. Just one question: Is it true?
Historians say that the settlers in Plymouth, and their supporters in England, did indeed agree to hold their property in common — William Bradford, the governor, referred to it in his writings as the “common course.” But the plan was in the interest of realizing a profit sooner, and was only intended for the short term; historians say the Pilgrims were more like shareholders in an early corporation than subjects of socialism.
“It was directed ultimately to private profit,” said Richard Pickering, a historian of early America and the deputy director of Plimoth Plantation, a museum devoted to keeping the Pilgrims’ story alive.
The arrangement did not produce famine. If it had, Bradford would not have declared the three days of sport and feasting in 1621 that became known as the first Thanksgiving. “The celebration would never have happened if the harvest was going to be less than enough to get them by,” Mr. Pickering said. “They would have saved it and rationed it to get by.”
The competing versions of the story note Bradford’s writings about “confusion and discontent” and accusations of “laziness” among the colonists. But Mr. Pickering said this grumbling had more to do with the fact that the Plymouth colony was bringing together settlers from all over England, at a time when most people never moved more than 10 miles from home. They spoke different dialects and had different methods of farming, and looked upon each other with great wariness.
Squishy liberal E.J. Dionne tries to split the difference by conceding that, yes, capitalism worked for the Pilgrims, but that was only because it was backed by communitarian values and the promise of assistance to those in need. Which, I guess, means the real lesson of the first Thanksgiving is — what? Hooray for Medicare?
Two clips, the first from Reason and the other (via the Right Scoop) of Rush Limbaugh recounting this same story. It’s been a favorite of his for years. And for our three liberal readers who were hoping for something more their speed, no worries: Angelina Jolie’s got you covered.