Lessons from the past are rarely taught in America today, where our own history receives at best a cursory and frequently highly critical glance in our government schools.
The lessons the original Anglo-Saxon settlers learned about religious freedom, communal living and government were instrumental in establishing the laws and customs later adopted by their descendants in the founding documents of our nation.
Two main groups created surprisingly different ways of life here in North America. One, the well-known “Pilgrims,” are the forefathers of the New England colonies, and had strict laws of morality based on a hard-line approach to religious obligations and scripture-based legal codes. They also were quite materialistic in their economic views, regarding material prosperity as a reward from God for their religious piety.
The other group arrived at Jamestown in 1607, 13 years ahead of the much better known Pilgrims. While the Pilgrims were religiously driven, the Jamestown settlers were seeking wealth first and foremost. Religion was a part of their lives, but the absolutism of their New England counterparts was not found among them. For the most part, they regarded themselves as loyal subjects of the King of England and established the Anglican Church as the official religion of the new land called “Virginia,” named by Sir Walter Raleigh after the virgin Queen Elizabeth. These colonists were the forefathers of the Southern way of life, which ultimately produced the greatest statesmen in American history, including Jefferson, Washington and Madison.
Both original colonies, in the spirit of cooperation and Christian brotherhood, attempted to live communally; that is, as the Marxists of a later day would term, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”
The results of this well-intentioned endeavor are the foundation for the strongly held American ideal of private property rights, as you shall see.
First, Jamestown: “Hitherto no right of private property in land had been established. The fields that were cleared had been cultivated by the joint labor of the colonists; their product was carried to the common storehouses, and distributed weekly to every family, according to its numbers and exigencies. A society, destitute of the first advantages resulting from social union, was not formed to prosper. Industry, when not excited by the idea of property in what was acquired by its own efforts, made no vigorous exertion.
“The idle and improvident trusted entirely to what was issued from the common store; the assiduity even of the sober and attentive relaxed, when they perceived that others were to reap the fruit of their toil; and it was computed, that the united industry of the colony, did not accomplish as much work in a week as might have been performed in a day, if each individual had labored on his own account. In order to remedy this, Sir Thomas Dale divided a considerable portion of the land into small lots, and granted one of these to each individual in full property. From the moment that industry had the certain prospect of recompense, it advanced with rapid progress.” From Robertson, “History of the Discovery and Settlement of America” 1835.
Their New England counterparts, although driven by religious zeal, fared no better. After several years of famine and death, “they began to think how they might raise as much corn [grain] as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. At length, after much debate of things, the Governor gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves. This had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted. The women now went willingly into ye 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 experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years, and that among godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of conceit of Plato and other ancients, applauded by some of later times – that ye taking away of property, and bring in community into a common wealth, would make them happy and flourishing; for this community was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort.” From “History of Plymouth Plantation” by William Bradford, 1647.
A pity Karl Marx, in all his supposedly deep thought and research in London’s libraries, did not take into account the practical experience of these early American socialists. It is an even greater pity (and mystery) why certain supposedly “learned” university professors still teach and preach socialism as though it is a utopia, untried in human experience and why President-elect Obama subscribes to this same economic philosophy for America today.
Perhaps the greatest lesson from this time period can be learned from the Indians. Look where the failure to deal with their illegal immigration problems got them. Certainly, something to think about.
Ira Hansen is a lifelong resident of Sparks and owner of Ira Hansen and Sons Plumbing.