Fox's mustachioed libertarian John Stossel tells us today that the "Lost Lesson of Thanksgiving" is that communalism almost killed the pilgrims at Plymouth. He wrote on FoxNews.com that the pilgrims "organized their farm economy along communal lines ... That's why they nearly all starved." Once they "moved from socialism to private farming," they had tons of food and everything was grand. "Because of the change, the first Thanksgiving could be held in November 1623," he says.
Stossel also appeared on Fox News' America Live to share his lesson with host Megyn Kelly. The appearance is currently being promoted on the top of Fox Nation.
So is he right? The New York Times' Kate Zernike noted earlier this week that Stossel's tale has been "related by libertarians and conservatives for years." She talked to a historian who makes clear that the history isn't as simple as Stossel would have us believe. From Zernike's article:
Historians say that the settlers in Plymouth, and their supporters in England, did indeed agree to hold their property in common -- William Bradford, the governor, referred to it in his writings as the "common course." But the plan was in the interest of realizing a profit sooner, and was only intended for the short term; historians say the Pilgrims were more like shareholders in an early corporation than subjects of socialism.
"It was directed ultimately to private profit," said Richard Pickering, a historian of early America and the deputy director of Plimoth Plantation, a museum devoted to keeping the Pilgrims' story alive.
The arrangement did not produce famine. If it had, Bradford would not have declared the three days of sport and feasting in 1621 that became known as the first Thanksgiving. "The celebration would never have happened if the harvest was going to be less than enough to get them by," Mr. Pickering said. "They would have saved it and rationed it to get by."
Also from the Times article:
Bradford did get rid of the common course -- but it was in 1623, after the first Thanksgiving, and not because the system wasn't working. The Pilgrims just didn't like it. In the accounts of colonists, Mr. Pickering said, "there was griping and groaning."
"Bachelors didn't want to feed the wives of married men, and women don't want to do the laundry of the bachelors," he said.
The real reason agriculture became more profitable over the years, Mr. Pickering said, is that the Pilgrims were getting better at farming crops like corn that had been unknown to them in England.