The real meaning of Thanksgiving

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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.

The result was a prosperous harvest in 1623 followed by a 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.

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William Bradford

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.

But Americans elected Joe Biden and Kamala Harris anyway.

A version of this blog was first posted in 20

14 comments on “The real meaning of Thanksgiving

  1. It is a shame the first lesson of our country is kept such a secret. I love this lesson every time I read it and likely share it. The Plato anecdote proves academics haven’t changed a lick in 2450 years. Here is something related I wrote 18 years ago. Happy Thanksgiving Thomas. .

  2. Doug Bradford says:

    This article is spot on, Tom. Most people believe determination and hard work will be rewarded. When you have more than you need, then you either sell to others or give to charity. These are the lessons drummed into me when I was growing up and what I passed onto my sons. There is an inherent satisfaction in this approach to life. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Keep telling a lie and soon some people will start believing it.

  4. Bill says:

    Good story. It should be taught in schools but I don’t think they even teach about Plato anymore. I don’t suppose Anon, who always claims untruth without substantiation, is aware of the irony of his comment, in the face of substantial evidence that the example of the virtue of capitalism over socialism is shown by Governor Bradford’s own words.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Bill lots of people say lots of things, and the more often you say things the greater the probability that just once in a while you get something correct.

    Your comment doesn’t fall within these perameters however let me say this:

    As most people folks on the right will tell you, there has never been “true” capitalism; i.e. markets existing without government interference, and since even the proponents of capitalism will tell you that the question is what basis do they have for attributing so many (any really) good qualities to capitalism?

    And you probably weren’t around years ago when we had the lengthy discussions about what really happened with the Indians and the Pilgrims and how these myths about starving under some weird “socialism” happened but “capitalism” saved everything. Suffice it to say that the Pilgrims didn’t own anything when they got to America so whatever “land” they eventually stole from the Indians who were on it, killing many of them in the process, is more an indictment of capitalism than anything else.

  6. Athos says:

    Anny, you are a living testament to “I hate America and all she stands for” prevalent wing of the elite, pampered, and privileged segment of America, that has taken over the Democrat party. Thank God your numbers are but a sliver, now, but definitely shows the destruction of our education system and the rot of the “halls of higher learning”. And your elites are so incompetent it absolutely scary how they butcher one important undertaking after another! (Afghanistan and Covid readily come to mind, but even this transgender affirming surgery that tries to assure our youth that a boy can be a girl!)

    And it seems like you were poised and ready to come out of the shadows to join the Global Economy when The Donald up and got elected and spoiled all your plans. For people who have such a high opinion of themselves, why do you fall for the false promise of socialism time and again? You can’t picture yourself cleaning toilets in the glorious new regime? Somebody’s got to do it, comrade!

    Oh, and Bill, see how Anny STILL hasn’t substantiated his argument, but the irony DID sail over his head!

  7. Bill says:

    Athos, maybe Anony was trying to be funny and show everyone his sense of humor after by advancing such a fallacious and logically inconsistent argument about the lack of evidence of the historical lesson on Capitalism vs. Socialism made by the Governor where the experiment took place.

    It’s the holiday season so lets give Anon the benefit of the doubt and think that maybe he was trying to poke fun at himself by advancing such a ironically funny argument.
    I grant you I haven’t run across too many Socialist Ideologues that are able to laugh at themselves or laugh about much of anything, but maybe he was trying to be ironically humorous. Everyone have a great Thanksgiving. There is much that we thankful for even though there is much to worry about as well.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Like most people who adhere to that most destructive of all economic systems, Bill is confident that capitalism is good even while it has never been tried in its “pure” form.
    And how could it? lais·sez-faire or the “abstention by governments from interfering in the workings of the free market.” has never been and could never be permitted by any group of people for it would mean that society has no say over the forces that individuals would impose on them. Never has that been permitted, and neither will it be permitted.

    Its odd therefore that anyone would attribute positive outcomes to an economic system that has never existed or, if they do, they neglect to mention that the economic outcomes are at least as influenced by societal influences “socialist” influences as they are by the “capitalist” ones. I mean, how to explain the economic environment in this country by suggesting that it is the result of the free market without admitted that this country has been influenced by socialism throughout its history. In fact, even before the history of this country as Thomas’ fable about Thanksgiving demonstrates, socialism played a role in how the very earliest Americans structured their economic lives.

    And Bill if you were interested in at least one other perspective of the earliest Thanksgiving and how the Pilgrims did what they did and at whose expense they did it, you could review some of Thomas’ earlier postings of this same story and the comments therein but probably better to just be thankful and think of Thanksgiving like this:

  9. Anonymous says:

    In the spirit of giving however let me pass on the story of the myth of Thanksgiving that Thomas has so willingly passed down through the years interrupted only occasionally by folks like Rincon who posted this story some years ago to one of the repeated columns about Thanksgiving from Thomas.

    Maybe prior comments could be posted along with the repeats? Pump up that comment section a little maybe?

  10. Bill says:

    Well, maybe the Pilgrims didn’t have the first Thanksgiving at all and maybe Texas or Virginia is the place where it all started. Wherever, it is still a historical fact that the Pilgrims at Plymouth started out with socialism and then when that didn’t work they switched to a form of capitalism. They did so according to the citations that you provided.
    The Pilgrams at Plymouth did not kill any Indians that I am aware of and your interjection of the issue of the subsequent oppression of the native Americans by others than the Plymouth Pilgrims is not relevant to the discussion and does nothing more than create another “straw man” issue that is an entirely new subject and not relevant to the issue being discussed. The discussion is whether thethe Plymouth Pilgrims switch from Socialism to Capitalism? They did. You said so by citation. More ironical humor here?

    There were some killings involving Pilgrams but it was Pilgrams in other places that were eeing killed. There were massacres involving “Pilgrims” but they involved Indians killing pilgrims. Massacres in…

    On April 18, 1644 afterwards known as “Opechancanough Day” the Pamunkee Indians and several tribes in the Indian Federation went on a rampage. There was a carnage that was greater than the one in the Norfolk area in 1622. The Indians slaughtered no less than 500 Englishman..
    The history of the United States treatment of Native Americans is not an admirable record. There were policies of relocation and extermination. Both Democrats and Republicans were involved. One of the largest was Democrat Andrew Jackson’s Indian Relocation Act. Grant embarked on extermination. Perhaps that entire subject might be a future topic for Tom to advance. Have a great Thanksgiving. I intend to have a terrific holiday.

  11. Bill says:

    Maybe we need to define terms.

    Socialism. a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole:

    Capitalism. an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.

    I’m not aware of any countries in the world that could be considered to be “pure” capitalist or “pure” socialist” in their economic philosophy.

    So what’s your point?
    Many of those countries who describe themselves as “socialist” are in reality oppressive tyrannies. Cuba, Russia and China come to immediate mind as well as many third world countries. Iceland comes pretty close to being a functioning socialist country but although it has beautiful women it reminds me of Lovelock in January.

    Nothing wrong with socialism, so long as you are part of the ruling apparatus busy taking money and labor from the producing members of society.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Let’s try a non-white bread imaginary history of the Pilgrims and just part of what they did to the indigenous tribes in America (forgetting entirely about the plagues Europeans spread intentionally and unintentionally of course)

  13. Anonymous says:

    Lots of places that describe themselves as Democratic Republics are oppressive tyrannies (North Korea, East Germany back when there was such a thing) as well as many third world countries.

    Nothing wrong with capitalism so long as you are so long as you are part of the ruling apparatus busy taking money and labor from the producing members of society.

  14. Athos says:

    Bill, I think you’ve hit on something about Anny. He entertains us with a ridiculous cartoon completely whitewashing the Pilgrims’ settlement and Plymouth Rock story as a cogent anti-capitalist argument! One that never once mentions religious persecution! And it’s such a cute cartoon!

    But then he just has to showcase his abject hatred of America, and American Spiritual Values, and just spits up all over himself. If I’m not mistaken, the term “capitalism” was first coined by Karl Marx (no relation to Groucho) to be used as a pejorative. Maybe we should use something different to describe the American economic miracle (that elevates our poorest souls to upper-class status compared to all other nations). “I favor a reasonably free economy, honest competition governed by moral principles, and the institution of private property.” With a justice system that treats all equally.

    How about that, Anny? I don’t think you’ll find THAT in North Korea, China or most of California!

    Happy Thanksgiving!

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