The Mayflower Compact Facilitated Pilgrim Starvation

GUEST COLUMN

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Harold Pease

The pilgrims realized that some kind of governing document was needed for the new colony, “as human nature is prone to disunity and differences that could be disruptive of peace.” Governor William Bradford thus described the circumstances under which the agreement came about.

“This day,[November 11, 1620] before we came to harbour, observing some not well affected to unity and concord, but gave some appearance of faction, it was thought good there should be an association and agreement, that we should combine together in one body, and to submit to such government and governors as we should by common consent agree to make and choose, and set our hands to this that follows, word for word…”

In other words, we agree to remain one body and to abide to common consent in deciding what is best for our community--even “word for word.” A democracy, if you will. That was a giant step for the time and a prelude for what would follow—eventually a republic. The idea that the peoples’ vote even mattered was revolutionary.

The Mayflower Compact contained just three sentences, the middle sentence is the heart of the document. It established a pure democracy. All have a common voice. All must obey the will of the majority. None can go their separate way if disaffected.

It read: “We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland king, defender of the faith, etc., having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid: and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.”

The actual landing of the Pilgrims occurred December 21 and work began on building houses two days before Christmas in the harsh New England winter. Women, children and the infirm remained on the Mayflower for another two weeks. Starvation, scurvy and lack of adequate shelter took 45 of the 102 emigrants the first winter. Of the 18 adult women 13 died the first winter, another the following May leaving only four alive for the 1st Thanksgiving the following Fall. Moreover, the starving times lasted two additional years. Why?

What is not said, but resulted none the less, was the end of private property, and the free market system. No reason to excel if excellence is disincentivized. All were forced to accept the collective will with no opportunity, if disaffected, to take themselves out of it. The result, the colony almost starved to death. The Compact might well have said “Each will produce according to his ability and each will receive according to his need,” which phrase is the heart of socialism. Pure democracy (the collective will) tends to degenerate into socialism, which reduces or destroys incentive to produce or excel, which leads to shortages, which leads to the masses demanding an equal share of the less that is produced, which leads to an impoverished society. 

This Thanksgiving Day we think of the Pilgrims enjoying abundant food, but this was not their real reality.

Few focus on the starving times the first year in 1620 when nearly half died. Harvests were not bountiful in that year and the next two. Plymouth was beset by laziness and thievery. Governor William Bradford, in his History of Plymouth Plantation, reported that “much was stolen both by night and day” to alleviate the prevailing condition of hunger. The mythical “feast” of the first Thanksgiving did fill their bellies briefly, he reported, and they were grateful, but abundance was anything but common. Why did this happen? Because they had fallen victim to collective will and the socialistic philosophy of mandated “share the wealth.” This dis-incentivized the productive base of society.

Then suddenly, as though night changed to day, the crop of 1623 was bounteous, and those thereafter as well, and it had nothing to do with the weather. Bradford wrote, “Instead of famine now God gave them plenty and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God.” He concluded later, “any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day.”

One variable alone made the difference and ended the three-year famine. They abandoned the notion of government (or corporation) owning the means of production and distribution in favor of the individual having property and being responsible to take care of himself. Before, no one benefited by working because he received the same compensation as those who did not. After the change everyone kept the benefits of his labor. Those who chose not to work basically chose also to be poor and the government (corporation) no longer confiscated from those who produced to give to those who did not. No government food stamps here.

Dr. Harold Pease is a syndicated columnist and an expert on the United States Constitution. He has dedicated his career to studying the writings of the Founding Fathers and applying that knowledge to current events. He taught history and political science from this perspective for over 30 years at Taft College. Newspapers have permission to publish this column. To read more of his weekly articles, please visit www.LibertyUnderFire.org.



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