Mike Franc, at Human Events in 2005, identified the real reason for celebration at the first Thanksgiving.
Writing in his diary of the dire economic straits and self-destructive behavior that consumed his fellow Puritans shortly after their arrival, Governor William Bradford painted a picture of destitute settlers selling their clothes and bed coverings for food while others â€œbecame servants to the Indians,â€ cutting wood and fetching water in exchange for â€œa capful of corn.â€ The most desperate among them starved, with Bradford recounting how one settler, in gathering shellfish along the shore, â€œwas so weak â€¦ he stuck fast in the mud and was found dead in the place.â€
The colonyâ€™s leaders identified the source of their problem as a particularly vile form of what Bradford called â€œcommunism.â€ Property in Plymouth Colony, he observed, was communally owned and cultivated. This system (â€œtaking away of property and bringing [it] into a commonwealthâ€) bred â€œconfusion and discontentâ€ and â€œretarded much employment that would have been to [the settlersâ€™] benefit and comfort.â€
Just how did the Pilgrims solve the problem of famine? In addition to receiving help from the local Indians in farming, they decided allow the private ownership of individual plots of land.
On the brink of extermination, the Colonyâ€™s leaders changed course and allotted a parcel of land to each settler, hoping the private ownership of farmland would encourage self-sufficiency and lead to the cultivation of more corn and other foodstuffs.
As Adam Smith would have predicted, this new system worked famously. â€œThis had very good success,â€ Bradford reported, â€œfor it made all hands very industrious.â€ In fact, â€œmuch more corn was planted than otherwise would have beenâ€ and productivity increased. â€œWomen,â€ for example, â€œwent willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn.â€
The famine that nearly wiped out the Pilgrims in 1623 gave way to a period of agricultural abundance that enabled the Massachusetts settlers to set down permanent roots in the New World, prosper, and play an indispensable role in the ultimate success of the American experiment.
A profoundly religious man, Bradford saw the hand of God in the Pilgrimsâ€™ economic recovery. Their success, he observed, â€œmay well evince the vanity of that conceitâ€¦that the taking away of propertyâ€¦ would make [men] happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God.â€ Bradford surmised, â€œGod in his wisdom saw another course fitter for them.â€
The real story of Thanksgiving is the triumph of capitalism and individualism over collectivism and socialism, which is the summation of the story of America.
And it looks like we’re about to receive another lesson of the same kind. For what we are about to receive, may we be truly thankful.
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