Misguided leftists can learn a lot from American history. They can learn a lot, specifically, from the lessons provided us by the Pilgrims clinging to life on the Massachusetts coast in 1623 and by the wide-eyed British invaders who set foot on the New World in 1776.
Just ask Nathaniel Philbrick and David McCullough, two of the nation’s most popular contemporary historians.
I couldn’t help but notice very illuminating (and perhaps unintended) odes to traditional conservative values in recent works by each author about pivotal moments in American history.
The first illuminating passage came in Philbrick’s spectacular book, “Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War.”
He does an incredible job of taking the pop-culture caricature of the Pilgrims and bringing their real story to life – real humans with real struggles and hopes and dreams.
You know the basic story of the early days of the Plymouth Colony. The settlers had trouble feeding themselves in the first few years, to the point that starvation was a very real problem. But they quickly found a solution.
Here are Philbrick’s words:
“The fall of 1623 marked the end of Plymouth’s debilitating food shortages. For the last two planting seasons, the Pilgrims had grown crops communally … but as the disastrous harvest of the previous fall had shown, something drastic needed to be done to increase the annual yield.”
So here’s what happened:
“(Governor William) Bradford decided that each household should be assigned his own plot to cultivate, with the understanding that each family kept whatever it grew. The change in attitude was stunning. Families were now willing to work much harder than they had ever worked before … The Pilgrims had stumbled upon the power of capitalism. Although the fortunes of the colony still teetered precariously in the years ahead, the inhabitants never again starved.”
The bounty of the land, its ability to provide for hard-working individualists, was never again in doubt.
If you need proof, simply fast forward 150 years through history to another illuminating passage, this one found in McCullough’s “1776,” his masterpiece about the darkest but most celebrated year in American history.
He describes the reaction of King George’s troops when they landed during the amphibious invasion of Brooklyn on Aug. 22.
“The Hessian and British troops alike were astonished to find Americans blessed with such abundance – substantial farmhouses and furnishings. ‘In all the fields the finest fruit is to be found,’ Lieutenant von Bardeleben wrote … ‘The peach and apple trees are especially numerous … The houses, in part, are made only of wood and the furnishings in them are excellent. Comfort, beauty, and cleanliness are readily apparent'”
It pays to remember that these visitors were not from some poor foreign land. They were, instead, agents of the world’s mightiest empire, an empire with vast resources from their holdings in every corner of the earth. Nobody enjoyed access to more material advantages than the British. Yet even they were impressed by the wealth that they witnessed upon arriving on America’s shores.
McCullough goes on to write:
“Americans of 1776 enjoyed a higher standard of living than any people in the world. Their material wealth was considerably less than it would become in time, still it was a great deal more than others had elsewhere.”
McCullough believes “that it must have been incomprehensible to the invaders that people with so much would rebel against their rulers.”
But the invaders, if they asked the question, were looking at things the wrong way.
The wealth and bounty of the people, greater than that of any others in the world, did not come from some central authority; it was not granted by the largesse of London, much like wealth and growth cannot be granted by Washington today.
In fact, the people only rebelled when it became clear that London wanted a piece of the action, and wanted to intercede into the lives of a people who enjoyed a level of autonomy unlike that of any people in the history of the world.
This autonomy, this need to answer only to themselves and to their local communities, had made a sparsely populated group of settlers on the Atlantic Coast the wealthiest corner of the world in the space of just 150 years.
This wealth was created by the hard work and individual initiative of the people themselves, who owed little of that wealth to a central authority. It took the Pilgrims just two planting seasons to figure it all out.
Yet nearly 400 years later, American leftists still don’t get it.