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The American socialist experiment

By Charles F. Wickwire
web posted September 2, 2002

The MayflowerOn November 11, 1620, the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock. The ship lay at anchor until March, the pilgrims living onboard while permanent housing was being built. When the Mayflower finally left, 27 adults and 23 children were left of the 102 people who set out across the ocean. Their governor was William Bradford and under his leadership, these first Americans began to make a new life in the New World.

What very few Americans today know is this very first colony on the shores of America started out as a socialist colony. The Pilgrims at Plymouth set up a common store that worked on the principle of "From Each According To His Ability - To Each According To His Need". Everything that the colony produced was placed in the common store and was then distributed out as needed.

For two years the colony worked to create a socialist Utopia but even with an additional 30 settlers who arrived a year after the Mayflower, the colony barely survived. Each winter the colonist would go hungry being reduced to rations of a quarter pound of bread at times. Governor Bradford relates his experiences concerning the socialist state he had helped to create:

"The experience that was had in this commone course and condition, tired sundrie years, and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanitie of that conceite of Platos and other ancients, applauded by some of later times; --that the taking away of propertie, and bringing in communitie into a comone wealth would make them happy and florishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this comunitie (so farr as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontente, and retard much imployment that would have been to their benefite and comforte. For the yong-men that were most able and fitte for labour and service did repine that they should spend their time and streingth to worke for other mens wives and children, with out any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in divission of victails and cloaths, than he that was weake and not able to doe a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalised in labours, and victuals, cloaths, etc., with the meaner and younger sorte, thought it some indignite and disrespect unto them. And for men's wives to be commanded to doe service for other men, as dresing their meate, washing their cloaths, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brooke it. "

Finally, in 1623, Governor Bradford called a meeting to discuss how to have a more productive growing season and be better prepared for the next winter. Governor Bradford writes:

"All this while no supply was heard of, neither knew they when they might expecte any. So they [the pilgims] begane to thinke how they might raise as much corne as they could, and obtaine a beter crope than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in miserie. At length after much debate of things, the Gov. (with the advise of the cheefest amongest them) gave way that they should set downe every man for his owne perticuler, and in that regard trust to themselves... And so assigned to every family a parceel of land. This had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corne was planted than other waise would have bene by any means the Gov. or any other could use, and saved him a great deall of trouble, and gave farr better contente. The women now wente willingly into the feild, and tooke their litle-ons with them to set corne, which before would aledge weakness, and inabilitie; whom to have compelled would have bene thought great tiranie and opression."

It was at this meeting between Governor Bradford and the chief members of the colony that the American free enterprise system was born. Governor Bradford writes about the results of this system:

"By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine, now God gave them plentie, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoysing of the harts of many, for which they blessed God. And in the effect of their perticular planting was well seene, for all had, one way and other, pretty well to bring the year aboute, and some of the abler sorte and more industrious had to spare, and sell to others, 50 as any generall wante of famine hath not been amongest them since to this day."

This little known failed experiment in American socialism isn't taught in today's schools. If it was, our children might grow up to doubt governmental programs that redistribute wealth "from each according to his ability - too each according to his need."

Source: William Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647

Charles Wickwire is a Computer Specialist who likes to share his opinion with those who are interested and even those who are not. He can be contacted at CharlesWickwire@yahoo.com.

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