There is much talk these days of how conservatives need “new ideas” in these troubled economic times. And as we look at our nation’s troubled landscape, there is much work that needs to be done if we are going to return economic prosperity to the country. But as we sit down to celebrate Thanksgiving with our friends and family, recalling the true story of the Pilgrims should remind us all that the core principles that have made this nation great are unchanging, and that we risk ruin if we abandon them.

Most children learn that the Pilgrims’ salvation at Plymouth Colony stemmed from the generosity of local Indians. And while there is no doubt that the American natives did help the immigrants through some early tough times, it was not until the Pilgrims rediscovered the importance of private property that the colony began to thrive and was able to give thanks for their own blessings. When the Pilgrims first arrived, they attempted a form of, in Gov. William Bradford’s words, “community” or “commonwealth.” In other words, they attempted to “spread the wealth around” by destroying private property and replacing it with a communally owned property system.

The result was disastrous. According to Bradford, this system bred “confusion and discontent” and “retarded much employment that would have been to [the settlers'] benefit and comfort.” Unable to produce their own food, some settlers  “became servants to the Indians,” cutting wood and fetching water in exchange for “a capful of corn.” It was not until the colony changed course and allowed the private ownership of farmland that prosperity returned. Bradford reported, “This had very good success for it made all hands very industrious. … [M]uch more corn was planted than otherwise would have been. … Women went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn.”

A profoundly religious man, Bradford saw the hand of God in the Pilgrims’ economic recovery. Their success, he observed, “may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato’s and other ancients and applauded by some of later times … that the taking away of property … would make [men] happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God.” Bradford surmised, “God in his wisdom saw another course fitter for them.”

Amen to that.

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