Plymouth Colonists Saved by Free Market

Although any understanding of the Pilgrims’success is deficient when the Lord’s providential care and blessing is not stressed, this article may be helpful as it focuses on the economic structure which was incorporated by the Pilgrims.

President Clinton is getting loads of advice these days, much of it from leftists pushing socialist planning and ever more government controls. But the president would do well to study the lessons of our very first community at Plymouth Bay more than 350 years ago.

At Hillsdale College in Michigan, the authors of a recent commentary in the institution’s highly acclaimed publication, Imprimis, did some research on how the Plymouth settlement governed itself. Their conclusion sounded startling. "The Pilgrims," they discovered, "were communist. At least, they set out to be."

As related in Imprimis, "Plymouth Bay Colony was established as a commune according to the socialist dictum, ’From each according to his ability, to each according to his need..’ And so each Pilgrim contributed his harvest to a common storehouse from which everyone withdrew food as needed."

"However," the account continues, "the assurance that they would be fed from the common store, regardless of their contribution to it, had a peculiarly disabling effect on the colonists. Soon there were more needy consumers than able producers, and the Pilgrims very nearly starved to death."

"Desperate to avert tragedy," it went on, "Governor William Bradford proclaimed that each colonist would thereafter be free to do whatever he chose with the fruits of his labor. In other words, he established a free market. Governor Bradford recorded the outcome of his experiment in economic freedom in his diary, from which the following is adapted."

Quoting now, "The freedom had very good success. It made all hands very industrious, so that much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by means I, or any other, could use. It saved me a great deal of trouble and gave for better results."

Continuing from Governor Bradford’s diary: "The women went willingly into the field and took little ones with them to set corn. Before, they would allege weakness and inability, and to have forced them to work would have been thought tyranny and oppression."

"By this time," said the leader of the first Plymouth Colony, "the harvest was come and, instead of famine, now God gave them plenty. And some of the abler and more industrious sort had food to spare to sell to others, so as any general want or famine has not been amongst them since to this day."

Concluded the Imprimis account: "Thus was born the miracle of America’s abundance. And those who today propose central planning, common ownership, redistribution of wealth, and government handouts are advocating a system that Americans have already tried and abandoned more than 350 years ago!"

In our estimation, the experience of the Plymouth Pilgrims is a parable for all times - and all countries. Through- out the world, wherever people have thrown off the yoke of tyranny and turned to liberty and self-government, nation after nation has striven to develop a system of free markets, Even in the birthplace of the modern communist state- the former Soviet Union - reform leaders are desperately attempting, however slowly and painfully, to bring about economic freedom as well as political liberty.

Like the Plymouth settlers, they have tried the communist way and it didn’t work. Indeed, there’s never been a substitute for private initiative. It’s a fact of life our own economic tinkerers should heed before taking the socialist road to ruin.