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.

A version of this has been posted for several Thanksgivings.

 

Advertisements

6 comments on “The true meaning of Thanksgiving

  1. nyp says:

    Oh God, not the libertarian Thanksgiving thing again!

  2. nyp says:

    The first Thanksgiving was in 1621.
    http://www.pilgrimhallmuseum.org/ap_first_thanksgiving.htm

    If, as you say, the Common Course wasn’t abandond until 1623, how could the first Thankgsiving have been about celebrating the trumph of capitalism over evil socialism and its dirty hippie followers?

  3. Barbara says:

    This is the text of the Continental Congress November 1, 1777 national Thanksgiving Day Proclamation; as printed in the Journals of Congress.

    Saturday, November 1, 1777

    The committee appointed to prepare a recommendation to the several states, to set apart a day of public thanksgiving, brought in a report; which was taken into consideration, and agreed to as follows:

    Forasmuch as it is the indispensable duty of all men to adore the superintending providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with gratitude their obligation to him for benefits received, and to implore such farther blessings as they stand in need of; and it having pleased him in his abundant mercy not only to continue to us the innumerable bounties of his common providence, but also smile upon us in the prosecution of a just and necessary war, for the defense and establishment of our unalienable rights and liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased in so great a measure to prosper the means used for the support of our troops and to crown our arms with most signal success:

    It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive powers of these United States, to set apart Thursday, the 18th day of December next, for solemn thanksgiving and praise; that with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their divine benefactor; and that together with their sincere acknowledgments and offerings, they may join the penitent confession of their manifold sins, whereby they had forfeited every favor, and their humble and earnest supplication that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance; that it may please him graciously to afford his blessings on the governments of these states respectively, and prosper the public council of the whole; to inspire our commanders both by land and sea, and all under them, with that wisdom and fortitude which may render them fit instruments, under the providence of Almighty God, to secure for these United States the greatest of all blessings, independence and peace; that it may please him to prosper the trade and manufactures of the people and the labor of the husbandman, that our land may yield its increase; to take schools and seminaries of education, so necessary for cultivating the principles of true liberty, virtue and piety, under his nurturing hand, and to prosper the means of religion for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consisteth in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.

    And it is further recommended, that servile labor, and such recreation as, though at other times innocent, may be unbecoming the purpose of this appointment, be omitted on so solemn an occasion.

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Here’s my recipe for Sweet Potatoes that I got from my Aunt Gale.

    6 med sweet potatoes – peal, dice, boil to med firm – place in 9 x 13 pan

    Mix together:

    1 1/2 cups sugar
    1/2 tsp cinnamon
    2 T Oleo
    1 tsp vanilla

    Add to potatoes and bake at 350 until melted

    Combine 1 cup dried cranberries, 1 cup coconut, 1/2 cup chopped pecans (you can substitute 1 cup crushed pineapple or mandarin oranges for the cranberries although I never have)

    Add to potatoes and bake 20 minutes. Top with marshmallows and bake until brown.

  4. Vernon Clayson says:

    nyp wonders why they didn’t apply for food stamps, welfare, free medical care, etc., and not be bothered with all that talk of god and providence. While there was a coummunity organizer,i.e., William Bradford, he was no Obama, he had to wing things, he had no socialist models like Marx, ALinsky, FDR, LBJ.

  5. Nyp says:

    Thanks for the recipe

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s