Excerpts from 'Chapter 6: Dead White Guys, or What the History Books Never Told You, the True Story of Thanksgiving,' from See, I Told You So (a story retold in the first book of his children's series, Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims):
"The story of the Pilgrims begins in the early part of the seventeenth century... The Church of England under King James I was persecuting anyone and everyone who did not recognize its absolute civil and spiritual authority. Those who challenged ecclesiastical authority and those who believed strongly in freedom of worship were hunted down, imprisoned, and sometimes executed for their beliefs. A group of separatists first fled to Holland and established a community."Happy Thanksgiving, friends...and God Bless!
"After eleven years, about forty of them agreed to make a perilous journey to the New World, where they would certainly face hardships, but could live and worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences. On August 1, 1620, the Mayflower set sail. It carried a total of 102 passengers, including forty Pilgrims led by William Bradford. On the journey, Bradford set up an agreement, a contract, that established just and equal laws for all members of the new community, irrespective of their religious beliefs. Where did the revolutionary ideas expressed in the Mayflower Compact come from?
"From the Bible. The Pilgrims were a people completely steeped in the lessons of the Old and New Testaments. They looked to the ancient Israelites for their example. And, because of the biblical precedents set forth in Scripture, they never doubted that their experiment would work. But this was no pleasure cruise, friends. The journey to the New World was a long and arduous one. And when the Pilgrims landed in New England in November, they found, according to Bradford's detailed journal, a cold, barren, desolate wilderness. There were no friends to greet them, he wrote.
"There were no houses to shelter them. There were no inns where they could refresh themselves. And the sacrifice they had made for freedom was just beginning. During the first winter, half the Pilgrims -- including Bradford's own wife -- died of either starvation, sickness or exposure." For a long time, many of them continued to live on the Mayflower. There was nowhere else to live. "When spring finally came, Indians taught the settlers how to plant corn, fish for cod and skin beavers for coats. Life improved for the Pilgrims, but they did not yet prosper!
"This is important to understand because this is where modern American history lessons often end. Thanksgiving is actually explained in some textbooks as a holiday for which the Pilgrims gave thanks to the Indians for saving their lives," and teaching them to grow food and eat and all that, "rather than as a devout expression of gratitude grounded in the tradition of both the Old and New Testaments." The Bible. Remember, these were religious people. They set out on a journey to a place that they had no idea of, and they just found barren wilderness.
The very idea that they survived -- even before they began to prosper, the very idea that they just survived -- was what gave them pause to thank God. That was the original Thanksgiving, and that's not taught. The original Thanksgiving is taught as, "If it weren't for the Indians, Pilgrims would have died. The Indians saved their bacon! The Indians saved them." It's an understandable effort here, but that's not what happened, is the point.
"Here is the part that has been omitted: The original contract the Pilgrims had entered into with their merchant-sponsors..." in London called for everything they produced to go into a common store, and each member of the community," all 40 of them, "was entitled to one common share. All of the land they cleared and the houses they built belong to the community as well."
It was a commune. It was socialism! Because they wanted to be fair. "They were going to distribute it equally. All of the land they cleared and the houses they built belonged to the community as well. Nobody owned anything. They just had a share in it. It was a commune, folks. "It was the forerunner to the communes we saw in the '60s and '70s out in California -- and it was complete with organic vegetables, by the way," in case you'd like to know. "Bradford, who had become the new governor of the colony, recognized that this form of collectivism was as costly and destructive to the Pilgrims as that first harsh winter, which had taken so many lives," and half the people weren't carrying their weight, didn't have to.
"He decided to take bold action. Bradford assigned a plot of land to each family to work and manage," and they got to keep the bulk of what they produced, "thus turning loose the power of the marketplace. That's right. Long before Karl Marx was even born, the Pilgrims had discovered and experimented with what could only be described as socialism. And what happened? It didn't work! ... "What Bradford and his community found was that the most creative and industrious people had no incentive to work any harder than anyone else, unless they could utilize the power of personal motivation!
"But while most of the rest of the world has been experimenting with socialism for well over a hundred years ... the Pilgrims decided early on to scrap it permanently. What Bradford wrote about this social experiment should be in every schoolchild's history lesson. If it were, we might prevent much needless suffering in the future. 'The experience that we had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years,'" meaning it was tough for a long time, "'that by taking away property, and bringing community into a common wealth, would make them happy and flourishing -- as if they were wiser than God,' Bradford wrote."
Meaning: We thought we knew, but we were wrong.
"'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. For young men that were most able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children without any recompense...that was thought injustice.'" So what happened was, the hard workers began to see a bunch of slackers. Even in the first Pilgrims, they had a bunch of slackers, and they said, "What the hell are we doing? If everybody's getting an equal share here and half of these people aren't working, to hell with this!" and they threw it out.
William Bradford wrote about it in the journal. "The Pilgrims found that people could not be expected to do their best work without incentive. So what did Bradford's community try next? They unharnessed the power of good old free enterprise by invoking the undergirding capitalistic principle of private property. Every family was assigned its own plot of land to work," and they were permitted to use it as they saw fit, "and permitted to market its own crops and products. And what was the result? 'This had very good success,' wrote Bradford, 'for it made all hands industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been.'"
They had surpluses. You know what they did with the surpluses? They shared them with the Indians. Capitalism, as opposed to socialism, produced abundance, the likes of which they had never experienced. They remembered the help they got when they first landed from the Indians. They shared their abundance. That's the first Thanksgiving: A thanks to God for their safety, a thanks to God for their discovery, and a thanks to the Indians by sharing the abundance that they themselves produced after first trying what could only be called today Obamaism or Clintonism or socialism.
That, my friends, is the real story of Thanksgiving.
Related link: The Real Story of Thanksgiving