God Bless America
by Vin Suprynowicz
Special to TLE
And so, as beefy gladiators chase a pigskin down the field in Miami
or Detroit, we settle into our living rooms, loosen our belts, wave
off a second helping of pie, and remind the little ones this is the
day we echo the thanks of the Pilgrims, who gathered in the autumn of
1621 to celebrate the first bountiful harvest in a land of plenty.
That first winter in the New World had been a harsh one, of course.
Half the colonists had died. But the survivors were hard-working and
tenacious, and - with the aid of a little agricultural expertise
graciously on loan from the Wampanoag, the Narragansett, and the
Mohegan - were able to thank the Creator for an abundant harvest,
that second autumn in a new land.
The only problem with the tale, unfortunately, is that it's not true.
Oh, the part about the Indians graciously showing the new settlers
how to raise beans and corn is right enough. But in a November, 1985
article in "The Free Market," monthly publication of the Ludwig von
Mises Institute, author and historian Richard J. Marbury pointed out:
"This official story is ... a fairy tale, a whitewashed and sanitized
collection of half-truths which divert attention away from
Thanksgiving's real meaning."
The problem with the official story, Mr. Marbury points out, is that
"The harvest of 1621 was not bountiful, nor were the colonists
hardworking or tenacious. 1621 was a famine year and many of the
colonists were lazy thieves."
In his "History of Plymouth Plantation," the governor of the colony,
William Bradford, reported that the colonists went hungry for years
because they refused to work in the fields, preferring instead to
steal. Bradford recalled for posterity that the colony was riddled
with "corruption and discontent." The crops were small because "much
was stolen both by night and day, before it became scarce eatable."
Although in the harvest feasts of 1621 and 1622 "all had their hungry
bellies filled," that relief was short-lived, and deaths from illness
due to malnutrition continued.
Then, Mr. Marbury points out, "something changed." By harvest time,
1623, Gov. Bradford was reporting that "Instead of famine now God
gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed, to the
rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God."
Thereafter, the first governor wrote, "Any general want or famine
hath not been amongst them since to this day." Why, by 1624, so much
food was produced that the colonists actually began exporting
What on earth had happened?
After the poor harvest of 1622, writes Bradford, "they began to think
how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better
crop." And what solution was decided upon? It turned out to be simple
enough. In 1623 Gov. Bradford simply "gave each household a parcel of
land and told them they could keep what they produced, or trade it
away as they saw fit."
What? Wasn't that the American way from the start?
Not at all. The Mayflower Compact had required that "all profits &
benefits that are got by trade, working, fishing, or any other means"
were to be placed in the common stock of the colony, and that, "all
such persons as are of this colony, are to have their meat, drink,
apparel, and all provisions out of the common stock."
A person was to put into the common stock all he could, and take out
only what he needed - a concept so attractive on its surface that it
would be adopted as the equally disastrous ruling philosophy for all
of Eastern Europe, some 300 years later.
"This 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his
need' was an early form of socialism, and it is why the Pilgrims were
starving," Marbury explains.
Gov. Bradford writes that during those terrible first three years
"Young men that are most able and fit for labor and service"
complained about being forced to "spend their time and strength to
work for other men's wives and children." Since "the strong, or man
of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes, than he
that was weak," the strong men simply refused to work, and the amount
of food produced was never adequate.
In historian Marbury's words, Gov. Bradford "abolished socialism" in
the colony, "replacing it with a free market, and that was the end of
In fact, this lesson had to be learned over and over again in early
America. "Many early groups of colonists set up socialist states, all
with the same terrible results," Marbury notes. "At Jamestown,
established in 1607, out of every shipload of settlers that arrived,
less than half would survive their first 12 months in America. Most
of the work was being done by only one-fifth of the men, the other
four-fifths choosing to be parasites. In the winter of 1609-10,
called 'The Starving Time,' the population fell from 500 to 60.
"Then the Jamestown colony was converted to a free market, and the
results were every bit as dramatic as those at Plymouth. In 1614,
Colony Secretary Ralph Hamor wrote that after the switch there was
'plenty of food, which every man by his own industry may easily and
doth procure.' He said that when the socialist system had prevailed,
'we reaped not so much corn from the labors of 30 men as three men
have done for themselves now.' "
They say those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Sadly this
was a lesson the people of Russia had to learn all over again - at
the pain of equally devastating starvation and penury - in our own
century. By the 1980s, when the discredited and bloodstained rulers
of Russia finally threw up their hands and allowed farmers to raise
private crops and sell them for profit on a mere 10 percent of their
lands, once again more crops were produced on that 10 percent of the
land than on the 90 percent devoted to "collective agriculture," the
system under which - as the bitter Russian joke would have it - "We
pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us."
Yes, America is a bounteous land. But the source of that bounty - and
the good fortune for which we annually gather to give thanks - lies
not merely in the fertility of the soil or the frequency of the rains
- for there is hardly a more fertile breadbasket on the face of the
earth than the Soviet Ukraine.
No, the source of our bounty was the discovery made by the Pilgrims
in 1623, that when men are allowed to hold their own land as private
property, to eat what they raise and keep the profits from any
surplus they sell, the entire community becomes one of prosperity and
Whereas, an economic system which grants the lazy and the shiftless
some "right" to prosper off the looted fruits of another man's labor,
under the guise of enforced "compassion," will inevitably descend
into envy, theft, squalor, and starvation.
Though many would still incrementally impose on us some new variant
of the "noble socialist experiment," this is still at heart a free
country with a bedrock respect for the sanctity of private property -
and a land bounteous precisely because it's free. It's for that we
give thanks - the corn and beans and turkey serving as mere symbols
of that true and underlying blessing - on the fourth Thursday of each
God bless America - land of the free.
Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas
Review-Journal. His new book,
Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998,
is available at $24.95 postpaid from Mountain Media, P.O. Box 271122,
Las Vegas, Nev. 89127; by dialing 1-800-244-2224l or via web site