As we gather with family and friends this week giving thanks to God for the abundance we enjoy, Thanksgiving is also a chance to remember the foundations of American civilization.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for the Lakes Region Weekly, lives in Windham.

The Pilgrims, who have taken on mythic proportions almost four centuries after landing in Plymouth, came to the New World from England to find religious safe haven, far from the tyrannies of King James I and the Church of England.

Their quest to practice religion as they saw fit motivated them to first emigrate to tolerant Holland, brave a storm-tossed ocean crossing on the Mayflower and suffer through harsh New England winters, as well as native populations, who at times were kind but at others threatening and murderous.

Through thick and thin, the several dozen Pilgrims settlers spent the first several years eking out a crude existence, trading with natives and trying to keep their stomachs full, half of them dying in the process.

While we know well their stories of overcoming tribulations, the Pilgrims’ trials with different economic systems – first socialism and collective ownership of property and, when that failed, capitalism and private property – are notable and timely as well, especially as modern-day New Englanders Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders campaign hard to install a socialist form of government.

According to Gov. William Bradford in his 1651 book “Of Plymouth Plantation,” detailing the Pilgrims’ first three decades, socialism played a big role in why the Pilgrims failed so miserably the first few years.

Bradford wrote that families were expected to produce crops for the entire population, but few were motivated to work if the fruits of their labor were to be shared evenly by everyone. However, once land was privatized, with each family given a certain amount of acreage to farm for their own family’s provisions, things turned around.

The realization that employing capitalism, namely private property, would help save their dying community was huge for the Pilgrims’ survival.

As Bradford wrote, Pilgrim elders, facing famine and the community’s collapse, “began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery.

“At length, after much debate of things, the Governor (with the advice of the chiefest amongst them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves … And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number … This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been … The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato’s and other ancients applauded by some of later times; that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God.

“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.”

Socialism-hawkers such as Marx, Lenin, Chavez, Mao, Bernie and Warren say collectivism can work if the right people undertake it. Phooey. The Pilgrims were some of the noblest, trustworthy, hardest-working people ever to walk the earth. If they couldn’t operate a collective without letting human nature seep in and sap their productivity, nobody can.

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