The 400th Anniversary of the First Thanksgiving

The First Thanksgiving“The First Thanksgiving” (1915), by Jean Louis Gerome Ferris (American painter, 1863-1930)

This Thanksgiving 2021, Americans will celebrate the 400th anniversary of the first Pilgrim harvest feast of 1621. It was a special moment in history when two races of people – the American Indians and the white Puritan settlers – gathered together in peace, goodwill and gratitude. They enjoyed three days of thanksgiving, feasting, entertainment and friendly competitions like shooting, archery, running and wrestling. Download a 400th anniversary commemorative booklet here.

Pilgrim Commune

The Pilgrims’ early settlement, by today’s standards, was essentially a socialist commune. In his book, Socialism: The True History from Plato to the Present, historian William J. Federer quotes the socialistic bylaws imposed on the Pilgrims from those London merchants who funded the creation of the Plymouth colony. The settlers received their clothing, food, and supplies from the colony’s “common stock,” all farmland was collectively owned, and each family received provisions according to their needs, with the profits of labor being divided equally (rather than by what was earned through hard work). On top of that, the investors who sponsored their voyage wanted a return on their investment, so the deal was that at the end of seven years, all profits would be split 50-50 between the investors and the colonists.

Surely at least some of the Pilgrims must have been frustrated that they received the same amount of food and supplies as those who slacked off or did not work. Tragically, nearly half of the colonists died of starvation during their first winter in the New World. (They arrived in November 1620.) The delays in leaving England consumed many supplies that were supposed to get them through that first winter; plus they just weren’t equipped properly for survival in the wilderness of America. They probably wouldn’t have made it as far as they did if not for the assistance they received from the natives.

No Work; No Food

After the first year of famine, the Pilgrims voted to abandon the socialist commune idea and make the settlers personally responsible for their own survival. The colony’s new system gave each family their own property and required each family to take care of themselves. The colonists were encouraged to grow their own food knowing that there was no “common stock” to provide for them. This led to the entire colony becoming more motivated with men, women, and youth alike working in the fields eager to reap the benefits of their labor. Governor William Bradford noted the Pilgrims’ improved attitude in his journal:

[I]t made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.

The Pilgrims basically passed a rule that said, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.” You’d think they would have known that already, being the devout Christians that they were. “He who will not work will not eat” is found in the New Testament (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Bradford actually admitted that they had fallen for “the vanity of that conceit of Plato’s…as if they were wiser than God.” The Greek philosopher Plato is credited with being the first to present the idea of socialism – holding property in common. Work and responsibility are Biblical; socialism is not.

Our Pilgrim ancestors taught us a valuable lesson: communal arrangements only foster discontent, and the only “cure” for this is the free market. The ultimate lesson these early Americans learned and passed down to their posterity is to be self-sufficient and industrious. The only way for a society to prosper as a whole is through hard work and personal responsibility, not through patronizing promises of equal outcomes.

Socialism Then and Now

The examples of socialist failures are everywhere, the latest being Venezuela. That once prosperous and thriving country has sunk to Third-World status under a socialist regime. Just like the Pilgrims, Venezuelan citizens today are dealing with mass starvation and lack of basic supplies like toilet paper, water, and medicines. The “elite” are doing well, of course; it’s the regular citizens who are starving and dying.

The collapse of Venezuela is the end result of the socialist utopian dream. The typical reality of living in a socialist “paradise” is grim. The leaders of the “social paradise” never go hungry, but everyone else does. That anyone still buys into the socialist vision is totally amazing. Yet that’s what they’re trying to do in America. (And just so you know, contrary to popular belief, Sweden is not socialist.)

The Pilgrims saved their settlement by abandoning socialism and embracing the free market. They learned the hard way that the only way to get what you want out of life is to work for it. There is no other way. The Pilgrims discovered that early on in their existence in this land. That’s why it’s important to study the lessons of history, or future generations will be doomed to repeat the same mistakes. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me,” as the old saying goes.

Americans today need to take a page from the book of freedom before it is too late. We really need to get history and civics taught in our schools again. Many young people are totally naive about the function of government and the meaning of the U.S. Constitution. Just imagine, if socialism didn’t work for a relatively decent and religious group of people, how much worse will it be for a secular and lawless nation. Human nature is not compatible with an artificial political utopia.

National Monument to the Forefathers

What motivated the Pilgrims to come to America? What formula for success did they discover? More importantly, how can we apply these same foundational truths today? The key is in the National Monument to the Forefathers. This monument is featured prominently in great detail in Kirk Cameron’s documentary Monumental (2012), but most people have never heard of it!

The National Monument to the Forefathers stands as an ever-present reminder that our nation has a unique and exceptional identity rooted in faith and manifested in a recognition that morality preserves a nation, that a recognition of God as lawgiver grounds a nation, that Education advances a nation, and that political freedom is the outworking of these attributes. The Monument also reminds us that we are called to be a grateful people, like the Pilgrims themselves.

The 81-foot-tall granite monument is situated on an approximately 11-acre hilltop site on Allerton Street in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Originally looking down on Plymouth Harbor, this little-known statue erected by the Pilgrim Society is now surrounded by a residential neighborhood. The figures on the statue are intended to be read from top to bottom, beginning with the personification of Faith on the main pedestal, who symbolizes the virtue which inspired the Pilgrims’ journey to the New World. Faith’s right hand is pointing to Heaven, and she is holding an open Bible in her left hand.

The statue also has four buttresses with figures symbolizing the principles upon which the Pilgrims based their new society. These principles were Liberty, Morality, Law, and Education – all inextricably linked to the word of God. Smaller figures on each side of these four figures are meant to further amplify the message of the primary figures. For example, under “Liberty” are “Tyranny Overthrown” and “Peace;” under “Morality” are “Prophet” and “Evangelist;” under “Law” are “Justice” and “Mercy;” and under “Education” are “Youth” and “Wisdom.”

The front panel is inscribed as follows: “National Monument to the Forefathers. Erected by a grateful people in remembrance of their labors, sacrifices and sufferings for the cause of civil and religious liberty.” The right and left panels contain the names of those Pilgrims who came over on The Mayflower. The rear panel contains a quote from Governor William Bradford’s famous history Of Plymouth Plantation:

“Thus out of small beginnings greater things have been produced by His hand that made all things of nothing and gives being to all things that are; and as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shone unto many, yea in some sort to our whole nation; let the glorious name of Jehovah have all praise.”

America will cease to be a free and prosperous nation if we abandon our religious roots and trade capitalism for socialism. We must be as willing to fight to keep our foundation of freedom and free enterprise as we were to gain it from England in the first place.

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