Gail Spurlock, a Republican candidate for the District 12 seat on the Texas State Board of Education, has written a “clarification” of her contention that the Pilgrims nearly destroyed their colony and themselves because they practiced communism. In an email being circulated today by supporter Donna “Jeffrey Dahmer Believed in Evolution” Garner, Spurlock suggests that “the media has chosen to highlight” her statement about the Pilgrims. (By “media,” perhaps she means TFN Insider. We note that the Dallas Observer also blogged about this story, but the post's source was TFN Insider.) Spurlock's “clarification of her statement”:
The Pilgrims did come to America and did experiment with a communist system of communal owned and operated property. This system caused confusion, discontent, and a lack of entrepreneurship and individual initiative. The men who were the most able were jealous because they got paid the same amount as those who did not do as much work. The most able women who did the heaviest communal chores began to feel the same type of discontent. This discontent led to the lack of a strong work ethic; and the failure of the communist experiment began to lead to illness, starvation, and death.
Realizing the seriousness of the situation, Governor William Bradford began to study the situation and realized the root cause of failure was the communist system. He decided to change course and started giving each settler his own piece of land. The settlers began to work harder on their own land because they knew they would reap the benefits. Soon the entire colony began to prosper under the new system; and the rest is history.
Conclusion: Communism does not work; by the same token, big government does not work effectively either because it destroys individual responsibility and initiative.
Indeed America has proved that the free enterprise system does work because it encourages entrepreneurship, competition, self-control, individual liberty, a strong work ethic, individual responsibility, self-discipline, and all the benefits derived thereof.
America is an exceptional nation because our forefathers built it upon the free enterprise system combined with the Judeo-Christian ethic of generosity and love. When a nation thrives and is prosperous, everyone benefits.
Spurlock offers links to articles from the conservative Heritage Foundation and Hoover Institute websites to back up her claim. In fact, this story is hardly new — it's pretty much swept through the right-wing blogosphere over the past few years. Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have also promoted it, as have websites like Creation Worldview Ministries.
The problem is: it's a distortion of history. So we'll refer (again) to this New York Times article from last fall, in which historians thoroughly debunked the claim:
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.”
The Times notes that some Tea Party folks, like Dick Armey, also claim that the settlers of another early English colony — in Jamestown, Va. — nearly failed because of communism. But historians say that claim is just as absurd as the one about the Pilgrims:
“To call it socialism is wildly inaccurate,” said Karen Ordahl Kupperman, a historian at New York University and the author of “The Jamestown Project.” “It was a contracted company, and everybody worked for the company. I mean, is Halliburton a socialist scheme?”
Jamestown certainly was plagued with problems, the Times story notes, like malaria and drought:
But the biggest problem, Professor Kupperman said, was the lack of planning. The Virginia settlers came to the New World thinking that they could find gold or a route to the Pacific Ocean via the Chesapeake Bay, and make a quick buck by setting up a trading station like others were establishing in the East Indies.
“It was just wishful thinking,” she said, “a failure to recognize that these things are really, really difficult.”
Look, Gail Spurlock can believe whatever she wants, even if it's that the Pilgrims were radicals seeking a socialist utopia more than two centuries before Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote The Communist Manifesto. It's a free country, after all. But it's important to remember that she wants to serve on the State Board of Education, which approves curriculum standards that guide what public schools teach students across Texas. Just sayin'.