The true meaning of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is rich in traditions. The turkey. The dressing. The pumpkin pie. The family assembled in prayerful reverence in remembrance of the plight of the early settlers of this country — much of which is complete fiction.

The Plymouth colonists set out to live in an idealistic communal fashion. Everyone would share equally in the products of the colony. But after nearly starving to death in 1621 and 1622, Gov. William Bradford abandoned the social experiment and gave each family its own plot of land, and whatever was produced on it was the rightful property of the owner to consume or trade.

Gov. William Bradford

The result was a prosperous harvest in 1623 and feast of Thanksgiving.

Capitalism saved the colony.

The American Institute of Economic Research has posted online its own retelling of the Thanksgiving story, along with passages from Bradford’s recollections from “Of Plymouth Plantation,” translated into more modern spelling.

The AIER notes that the colony was attempting to live in the manner described in Plato’s Republic in which all would work and share goods in common, ridding themselves of selfishness and achieving higher social state. The problem was that hard work was not rewarded and laggardness and sloth went unpunished.

Bradford wrote:

“For the young men that were able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children, without recompense. The strong, or men of parts, had no more division of food, clothes, etc. then he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labor, and food, clothes, etc. with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignant and disrespect unto them. And for men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc. they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could man husbands brook it.”

Before the colony could die off from starvation, Bradford divvied up the land and introduced private property.

The governor wrote:

“And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number for that end. … This had a very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted then otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little-ones with them to set corn, which before would a ledge weakness, and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.”

And the result was, again in Bradford’s words:

“By this time harvest was come, and 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. And the effect of their planting was well seen, for all had, one way or other, pretty well to bring the year about, and some of the abler sort and more industrious had to spare, and sell to others, so as any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day.”

This is the real lesson of the first Thanksgiving: Capitalism always triumphs over communist utopian fantasies. Humans will work for their own self interest and, instead of it being greedy and rapacious, all benefit and prosper.

10 comments on “The true meaning of Thanksgiving

  1. Winston Smith says:

    One of man’s greatest inventions: The Property Line.

    It might be nice to think that a group of men and women will voluntarily work together for their mutual benefit, but beyond a large family situation, these experiments almost always degrade into some type of autocratic force. Whether these experiments originated from Christian belief (“John of Leiden”) or political belief (“Karl Marx”), they ultimately require property being forcibly taken from “haves” and given to the “have nots”, which invariably produces friction between the groups, especially as less and less is produced.

    Why these experiments are still attempted is certainly a mystery, since you’d think the over 100 million deaths at the hands of their communist leaders last century would prove that formula doesn’t work.

    Yes, there will be those that swear the limited socialism models (see Scandinavia) do work on a large scale, but even those are having difficulty:

    Unfortunately, the basis for all wealth redistribution is oppression of producers by the central planners, and learned dependency by the non-producers. Those three groups are in a constant power struggle, to the detriment of a normal functioning society.

    “I am for doing good to the poor, but…I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it.” – Benjamin Franklin

    Should I call for a PeteyCheck on that quote?

  2. nyp says:

    Except that the first Thanksgiving feast was in 1621, two years before the joint ownership experiment was abandoned.

    That fact kind of deflates your Tea Party interpretation of the first Thanksgiving.

  3. Rincon says:

    Amazing how Liberals and Conservatives can’t agree on much of anything. The NY Times (a liberal rag obviously) begs to differ:

    “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.”

    Whether it’s liberals or Conservatives that are prevaricating, the real lesson here is that we humans quite willingly stretch the truth in order to further our views, so don’t trust any source merely because it agrees with you.

    Either way, it’s still a holiday worth keeping. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.

  4. ronknecht says:

    Thanks for the reminder, Mitch. My Thanksgiving thoughts are annually well-expressed the day before on WSJ edit page in “The Desolate Wilderness” & “And the Fair Land”. Any chance you’ll be up here one of these days? I’ll be there 4 & 5 Dec. for my last regular BoR mtg. We could do dinner Thursday evening. RK

    Ron Knecht Economist & NSHE Regent 775-882-2935 (Still) One Plain-speaking Nerd, But Now Nevada Controller-elect

  5. Athos says:

    You know, Rinny, that it would be a wonderful thing if people could live together in harmony, sharing the labor and wealth, equally. It’s called Utopia and will materialize when Christ comes back to rule (no ETA on that date, however!)

    Until then, we’re faced with good old fashion human traits. Wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. Plus our more noble traits, when they surface from time to time.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  6. Rincon says:

    Gotta agree with you, Athos. Pure socialism just doesn’t work. We might disagree a little more about my saying that pure capitalism for every situation isn’t so hot either. If there are 5 people in a business, production is likely to be greatest if each is paid by his own production. If those same 5 people get caught in a snowstorm while mountain climbing, sharing suddenly makes a lot more sense than competing.

  7. Vernon Clayson says:

    Nyp’s “correction” about the timing of the Pilgrim’s first thanksgiving is typical of his mindblowing knowledge of all things, perhaps he could dissect the circumstances more, it only took those primitive colonials two years to figure their attempt at socialism didn’t work, here we are, centuries later, with “learned” people like him and his ilk, including supposed intellectuals in high positions still pushing it despite decades of failure

  8. nyp says:

    I am “pushing socialism”???
    How is that?

  9. Athos says:

    That’s an easy question to answer, petey. You’re a Pinocchio supporter!

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